Obituary: Pam Walker, teacher and lifelong co-operator

Pam Walker (1953-2017) was a gifted teacher and a natural co-operator. Her talents came together when she became the member education officer for the Ipswich and Norwich Co-operative...

Pam Walker (1953-2017) was a gifted teacher and a natural co-operator. Her talents came together when she became the member education officer for the Ipswich and Norwich Co-operative Society where her innovative and inspirational work had impacts far beyond East Anglia.

Young and old ‘learnt to co-operate and co-operated to learn’ and Pam’s bubble and drive made the experience ‘serious fun’.

Pam was born and raised in Southport, Lancashire. She trained as an English and drama teacher in Bradford and, following a move to Suffolk, became a youth worker. Strongly influenced by Howard Gardner’s teaching on multiple intelligences, she saw that the diversity of human talents worked best in social groups by applying co-operative principles.

During the 1990s, as partnership manager with the Suffolk Education Business Partnership, Pam came into contact with the co-operative movement. Working with the Ipswich Co-operative Society’s education officer, Richard Risebrow, she arranged for some teachers to be seconded to the society to develop a project called ‘Co-op 125’ marking the 125th anniversary of the Ipswich Co-op in 1993.

This included a mocked-up 1940s counter-service grocery store in what was otherwise Santa’s Grotto in the Ipswich department store, a set of learning resources for use in schools and the training of a group of stalwart co-op pensioners to deliver sessions with teachers and students.

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Following the merger of the Ipswich and Norwich Societies, the schools work expanded with a range of classroom resources and the development of a programme which worked with teachers as well as in schools and involved taking a delegation to the Co-operative College’s annual education conferences.

In 2000 Pam was elected to the society’s education committee. When Richard Risebrow retired the following year, Pam was appointed as his successor, a role which she pursued with characteristic vigour, enthusiasm and good humour.

Over the previous decade an increasing amount of the society’s work with schools and teachers had been supported by members of Dynamix, a worker co-op of trainers based in Swansea.

At Pam’s first meeting as the officer, the vice chair and longest serving member, Eric Hall, opened the debate by asking: “Well, my first question is, why can’t we have our own Dynamix group in Suffolk?”.

So, Pam gathered a team of trainers and facilitators to form First Question Co-operative as a worker co-operative, supported by the Ipswich & Norwich Society, but also able to secure work with and funding from other clients.

When the Co-operative College ceased its annual education conferences, Pam stepped in and organised nine consecutive events, initially in East Anglia and later, in partnership with Midlands Co-operative Society’s member relations department, United Co-operatives and the Co-operative Group, on a national basis.

While Pam was education officer, she  maintained a traditional programme of member groups and classes and a children’s music school running out of the Co-op Education Centre in Ipswich engaging 1,000 members a week in co-operative activity.

She also looked after the link with the Co-op Juniors Youth Theatre Company, delivered a major presence at Ipswich Music Day each year, organised annual Christmas concerts with the society’s choirs and bands, and developed a national and international reputation in the field of co-operative learning and the application of co-operative forms of pedagogy.

She described the rationale for this work with members, schools and in a range of community settings, complementing the society’s small grants programme, as being “to create a culture of co-operation in the communities in which we trade”.

After the Ipswich & Norwich Society became part of the East of England Co-operative, the agenda for member and community engagement for a time regrettably moved away from educational work and Pam had to move on, taking a job with Rural Action East.

Pam kept her “co-op hand” in through her involvement with Co-operatives East and First Question, while also taking on jobs with Snape Maltings and the National Trust and working with various voluntary organisations in Suffolk.

These years were not easy for her but her adventurous spirit led her to travel to India to meet and stay for several months with a pen friend she had corresponded with since they were both at school.

More recently, First Question Co-operative has begun to blossom again with projects delivered for the Broads Authority, WEA and Anglia Farmers. Despite facing some health challenges, Pam remained one of the driving forces of First Question and at the time of her death was Chair of Co-operatives East.

The legacy of her co-operative work can be seen in the continuation of many of the groups that meet at the Education Centre in Ipswich and the recent research for another society which shows that for every £1 spent on member groups and classes, there is a social benefit to the wider community of more than £20.

Pam died on 28 February, following a stroke. The funeral is being held on Thursday, 30th March, 1.30 pm at Seven Hills Crematorium, Felixstowe Rd, Ipswich IP10 0FG. Pam requested a colourful affair – not a black one!

Family flowers only – donations to The UK Mastocytosis Society, via East of England Co-op funeral office. There will be a reception afterwards at the Co-operative Education Centre, 11 Fore Street, Ipswich IP4 1JW (car park at rear in Waterworks Street).

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