150 years of The Co-operative – short conference report

On Saturday 25 January, the People’s History Museum played host and organiser for the conference 150 years of The Co-operative.  Timed to link in with our current exhibition, The People’s Business, there was a wide range of speakers and an opportunity to have a special guided tour with the exhibition curator, Lisa Keys.

Coop display

The team at PHM had created a small pop up display, seen above, made up from a mix of material from our rich object and archive collection.  We were also joined by staff from the National Co-operative Archive who hosted a small stand with some items from their archive for our conference delegates to view during breaks and lunchtime.

Before lunch there were sessions by Rachael Vorburg-Rugh on women in the co-operative movement (she will be back at PHM on Feb 22, more info here), David Stewart and Angela Whitecross looked at The Co-operative Political Party until 1997 and Gillian Longeran talked about the development of shopping and customer service within the CWS.  Gillian also screened a CWS staff training video from 1941, demonstrating how to maximise business through innovative window displays and the use of bright colours, peppered with snippets of the manufacturing processes.  (You can have a go at your own window display in our exhibition too!)

Polyp Author Signing

At lunchtime Polyp, author of The Co-operative Revolution: A Graphic Novel signed copies of his book in the museum shop.  There was a small display of other books and art work as you can see above.

Tony WebsterWelcome to the Conference

After lunch we were straight back at it, with talks from Dr Nick Mansfield and Stephen McCusker on architectural heritage and the buildings of rural co-operatives.  This was followed by Professor Tony Webster talked about his research looking at the global role the CWS has in 1863 – 1950 and how it set up branches for trade in New York as early as 1876.  There was a fair old amount of talk about butter being sold to New Zealand and trade in meat from Argentina.  All completely compelling and fascinating!

Co-op Exh Tour

We then took on a change of pace and had a special tour from the curator of The People’s Business Lisa Keys.  Lisa spoke to the group about her approach to documenting and celebrating 150 years of heritage, not an easy task when everyone has such fond memories of The Co-operative.

Finally, we were joined by Russell Gill, from The Co-operative Group, who spoke about the importance of heritage to the group and the sheer amount of materials held with the National Co-operative Archive and on show at Rochdale Pioneers Museum.  Sadly I can’t find the great film Russell showed from the 100 years celebrations in 1963 – if you know where it is do let me know.

Hopefully everyone got as much out the day as I did and a huge thanks to all our speakers for being so brilliant!

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