The first ever Rochdale Co-operatives Day showed off the diversity of the co-operative sector in the borough and celebrated the past, present and future of the co-operative movement. Rochdale town hall hosted a co-operative marketplace and tours of the historic building. The Rochdale Pioneers Museum offered tours and historic games and Touchstones hosted the annual meeting of the Co-operative College, one of the organisers of the event.
Opening the day at Rochdale Town Hall, Mayor Peter Rush said the aim of the event was to “remember past co-operative achievement and look to the future”. Colin Lambert, Leader of Rochdale Borough Council, then explained the importance of co-operatives to the town: “The whole worldwide history of the co-operative movement, with a billion plus members, started here. Rochdale can be proud of its heritage.”
He added that co-operation remains as relevant to the town today as it did when a group of poor Rochdale weavers got together in 1844 to form the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers’ Society, laying the way for the worldwide co-operative movement: “Never has something like the co-operative movement, and responding to the needs of society, been more relevant than in the austere times of today. Here in Rochdale, the capital of co-operatives, we have for the future a part of history being recreated. We now have to work with that to make sure it’s part of our future. Let’s really build on what the people in 1844 built for our future and our borough. Let’s do it for our future.”
Among the co-operative groups present was Rochdale Co-operative Members’ Group, which supports, assists and co-operates with any community initiative of benefit to the community. Member Eileen Earnshaw explained: “The co-operative heritage means everything to Rochdale. It’s very, very important to us. The Pioneers left us with an idea of fairness and a sense of working together to build a community. All for one and one for all!”
An example of the difference co-operation continues to make in Rochdale is the takeover of the borough’s 13,000 social housing properties in 2012 by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, which is now the largest housing mutual in the country with 2,000 members.“When we looked at the options for council housing in the borough the tenants were really keen that the model gave them a really big say in housing and services and the future of the community. Tenants put the mutualisation proposal forward to the council as the preferred option. It was really important to them that they maintained the local focus and control. It’s really led by the tenants. It’s an absolutely unique model,” explained Membership Manager Sue Kershaw.
She added: “I’m very aware that we’re part of a bigger mutual and co-operative family and that this is where it all started. We look at how we can work with other co-operatives in the borough to the benefit of the community.”
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing is the only mutual housing owner which allows employees to be members so, as Sue says “we’re breaking new ground in quite a lot of ways”. People who receive services and service providers are working together to meet their needs, meaning “we’re all members, with the same aims”. Employees have two days a year to go out and help the community and meet the tenants, for example doing community clean-ups, art and craft, dance classes, cookery, helping at after school club. A number of tenant activity groups supported by Rochdale Boroughwide Housing were present in Rochdale Town Hall at the event, from community gardening to craft groups. One such group was Not Just A Little Business, a group of young tenants who sell fairly traded goods such as chocolate, coffee, tea and Kilombero rice from Malawi, with the aim of supporting farmers in developing countries. Member Mariah Bhatti described it as “a great opportunity to learn about business and what life will be like in the business world”. She added: “Being a co-operative means working as a team. Rochdale was the first so we’re proud, and it’s part of the reason why Rochdale is such a big community.” Her colleague Zenab Ali added: “The co-operative makes people fair.”
Another first for Rochdale is Rochdale Hornets, the country’s first co-operatively owned Rugby Club, which has about 200 members. Ryan Bradley, Chief Executive of Rochdale Hornets, explains that the club became a co-operative after the old club went into administration. He said: “In the old days businessmen used to use their disposable income to run clubs, but now there is less money around.” Supporters had become a bit disillusioned, so it was decided to “open it up and have a broader membership”. More and more clubs are now looking at the model, and Rochdale Hornets recently played another co-operative club, Hemel Stags. Normally, the Hornets can expect around 250 fans at a game, but with the help of numerous ‘retweets’ on Twitter from other co-operatives the game attracted more than 800 fans. Ryan sees this as “an example of what co-operatives working together can do”. He believes that the co-operative model is the future for sports clubs: “Without the fans there would be no Rochdale Hornets. That’s the way clubs should be run.”
Rochdale Hornets now try to give back to the community where they can, holding their meetings at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum, and recently hosted the AGM of the Regional Co-operative. “Becoming a co-operative has opened up a new community to us and we are pleased to be a part of that family. We try to live up to the Pioneers,” explained Ryan.
Business Advisor Andrew Jessop from the Rochdale Borough Social Enterprise and Co-operative Forum hopes that the Rochdale Co-operatives Day will become an annual event and continue to grow. “The co-operative movement means so much to Rochdale,” he explained. “It’s about how the town sees itself. It’s aware of its role in the modern co-operative movement.” He added: “The International Year of Co-operatives held in 2012 helped raise awareness. People are increasingly aware of the relevance of co-operatives to their situation today, and don’t just see it as a historic movement.”
One co-operative which is a member of the Rochdale Borough Social Enterprise and Co-operative Forum is Tanzeem Co-operative, a group of home workers. Tanzeem Co-operative has about twenty members who offer services ranging from cleaning to catering and translation. Members have monthly meetings to discuss their new ideas, and the group also goes on daytrips.
Tanzeem Co-operative member Shalida Mansooi, who offers hand massages, described to the importance of the co-operative to its members: “If anyone has talent they can market their services. It is really useful and helpful for women in the community who stay at home. All the members help each other and support each other. Each member is respectful and everyone has equal opportunities, no matter where they come from.”
The Rochdale Pioneers Museum also had a busy day, with the North Wales Co-operative Members Group bringing 60 members to Rochdale for a guided tour of the Museum. A Blue Badge Guided walk from Touchstones Rochdale ended at the Museum with a short guided tour of the museum. Also at the Museum there were Victorian toys and games. From skittles to giant dominoes, jack-in-a-boxes to skipping ropes, there was something for all the family to enjoy. Some visitors also made their own Victorian thaumotropes to take home. Museum Manager Jenny Broadbent said: “The Victorian toys and games were a big hit with our family visitors. Come along to the museum on Wednesday 14 August between 12-3pm to play with them again during one of our summer holidays family fun sessions.”