From Italy to the Heart of Co-operation

In February, a group from the Italian co-operative Legacoop Emilia-Romagna made a trip to Manchester, returning the visit made by members of the Co-operative College last year. Roberto Cardinale explains what the group got out of its visit:

I have to admit that when in Italy, workers in co-operatives hear the word Rochdale, we become rather romantic. In fact, the Pioneers’ Society is a sort of myth, especially for me and my colleagues in “Generazioni”, the young co-operators (under 42 years old) network of Legacoop Emilia- Romagna, the regional office of the biggest co-operative association in Italy based in the region where co-operatives are present and developed.

As co-operators are a peculiar kind of human being and share a common language, we of Generazioni decided to promote a visit to Rochdale with the help of our cousin co-operators in England. Thanks to the kindness and professional organisation of the Co-operative College (Julie Thorpe and Steve Kingman), we organised two days of intense exchange. We had the opportunity to meet both the College and Co-operativesUK and appreciate the fact that we share common goals in our everyday jobs to promote co-operation culture and entrepreneurship.

During the morning we met with the staff of the College and with the Principal Mervin Wilson. It was of great interest to us to hear the important work that the College does in the field of professional training, in terms of research and in developing countries. But the thing which captured our ‘heart of co-operators’ more than others is the work the College is doing in schools to bring the co-operative governance system to schools in England. We raised the issue in Italy and, thanks as well to the participation in the visit by two researchers of AICCON (a research centre on Social Economy) and the University of Bologna, we will continue to follow the debate as we believe in the importance of this transformation. During the afternoon we met John Goodman, Officer for Policy and the Regions of Co-operativesUK. He described to us the current co-operative movement in England. We were pretty amazed by some types of co operatives which we don’t have in Italy. First in all, the “funeral co-operatives”, the model of which we would love to import to Italy, even though there would be cultural resistance against an Italian investing in their own funeral because of Italian superstition and they would read this as bad luck. I am superstitious but I would love to become a member.

Of the Rochdale Museum, I can only say we all felt like we visited our roots, the place where our beliefs had their birth. Malcolm was incredibly emphatic and transported us to the era in which the co-operative principles were necessary to build a better world. I strongly believe that these principles are still a real answer to the needs of young generations, a means to become realised and conscious human beings.

I thank all of you English co-operative cousins for your work and hospitality. You are all more than welcome to come and visit the co-operative family in Italy.

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