Call goes out for records of UK worker co-ops for new archive of the movement

The Co-operative Heritage Trust wants to create an archive of upsurge in the movement that took place in the 1970s, 80s and 90s

The Co-operative Heritage Trust is looking for records from the UK worker co-operative movement for an archive project – and for volunteers to help with the project.

In April, the trust received a grant of £43,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to ensure that key records from the movement are identified and saved. This grant, from National Lottery funds, has been supplemented by donations of more than £16,000 from current workers’ co-operatives and from co-operative organisations.

The project, named ‘Working Together: recording and preserving the heritage of the workers’ co-operative movement’, aims to identify and make accessible for the first time records from some of the major workers’ co-operatives of the 1970s-1990s, together with co-operative support organisations.

The archive aims to document the rapid upsurge of interest in the idea of working co-operatively in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, which led to a new wave of co-operative businesses.

The Nepalese visitors on the Co-operative College visit to worker co-op Unicorn

The trust said these workers’ co-operatives “played a significant role in their local communities, but also had national significance.

“They aimed to create jobs where people were important, with an emphasis on sharing work, ownership, profits, responsibilities, and decisions. The legacy from those years remains an important one for the co-operative movement as a whole.”

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But it warns: “Important records from these workers’ co-operatives are in danger of being lost forever, with many ending up at risk or being stored away in individual’s attics and cupboards and forgotten about.”

The trust has hired an archivist for 12 months to locate material relating to workers’ co-operatives and to ensure that, where possible, records are deposited at the National Co-operative Archive or in the relevant local county record offices or public archives. An oral history element to the project will mean that recordings of the memories of some of those most involved in co-operatives during this period will be made and preserved for future use.

The project will also involve the digitisation of key records, which will be included on the National Co-operative Archive website alongside case studies and learning resources. A number of exhibition panels will be created to be displayed at venues including the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. These activities will aim to make the materials more accessible to a wider audience, including those looking to create their own workers’ co-operatives, co-operative historians, schools, and the general public.

  • If you are aware of any records, or have any information that you believe may be relevant to this project; or would like to volunteer on the project, email workingtogether@co-op.ac.ukThe project can be followed through its Twitter account: @CoopArchive
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