Woodcraft Folk: Co-op thinking from an early age

'Woodcraft Folk is proud to play our part in raising future generations of co-operators' – Jon Nott, general secretary

It’s the end of the summer term and in hundreds of school halls, community centres and parks up and down the country, circles of children are gathering to share their news, play games and make final plans for their summer camp.

Six-year old Xavier is looking forward to helping cook for 50 people, eight-year old Laykiah can’t wait to put up the tent she’ll share with her friends. Joel, 18, is co-ordinating the national camp for 16-20 year olds in west Wales and 21-year old Hannah is organising a series of workshops for young people from the UK and Austria, following the journey of campaign group Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners from London to the Welsh Valleys, inspired by the 2014 film Pride.

Woodcraft Folk members at Westminster, during a lobby of local MPs about the removal of core funding from the Department of Education

It’s all just another week in the life of Woodcraft Folk, the co-operative children and young people’s movement. Started by teenagers in 1925, who took their inspiration from both Ernest Thompson Seton’s writings about woodcraft – the skills of living in harmony with nature – and the co-operative movement – the skills of living in harmony with other people. From those early days, Woodcraft Folk has combined the principles of the Co-operative movement with ideas of youth leadership, equality and internationalism, using the natural world as a classroom and playground.

Over the last nine decades while those principles have remained constant, the implementation has developed as society has changed. The international camps held in Brighton in 1937 and 1946 were practical demonstrations of cross-border solidarity and friendship in the shadow and aftermath of the Second World War – both a challenge to fascism and beacon of hope for a better world order. The modern tents, mobile phones and solar-powered cinema of CoCamp, the international camp hosted by Woodcraft Folk in 2011, would have seemed futuristic to those early campers, but the games, songs and campfire discussions would have made them feel right at home.

CoCamp was held within a fortnight of the massacre of 77 young socialists on the Norwegian island of Utøya and this summer, a delegation from Woodcraft Folk will join the first youth camp to take place on the island since the killings. Both the challenge to extremism and the beacon of hope remain vital parts of our education for social change today.

Whether it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience on an international exchange, the weekly group night or the annual District camp, the young members of Woodcraft Folk learn about co-operation, campaigning and community through practical experience rather than textbooks. Together we create a space where adults and children are equal, where everyone makes a contribution and everyone’s contribution is valued. Our young members gain confidence, skills and friendships that will last a lifetime.

Some will put down deep roots in their own community, some will become leaders and inspire future generations of Woodcraft Folk, and some will take what they have learned into the wider co-operative movement, into campaigning organisations or international networks. Many will do all three.

Related: How does Woodcraft Folk impact lives? We meet three former Woodies whose lives were influenced by their time in the youth co-op

Woodcraft Folk groups meet from Southampton to Stirling, engaging children and young people up to the age of 20 and volunteers of all ages. Funding and practical support comes from across the co-op movement, whether that’s space in a warehouse to store camping equipment, funding to help provide a national support infrastructure for volunteers, or paying for places to meet.

Woodcraft Folk is proud to be a part of the co-operative movement and proud to play our part in raising future generations of co-operators.

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