Friends, colleagues and co-operators throughout the UK and further afield have been paying tribute to Co-op Party chair Chris Herries – one of the leading lights of the UK co-op movement – who passed away unexpectedly in August.
Chris, who took the role with the Party in 2019, had previously served the movement in other roles – including as the first-ever female chair of Co-operatives UK and as a director for the Co-operative Group. She has also been a director of the Energy Saving Co-operative and was a great supporter of Revolver Co-op. She was involved in Country Markets Ltd (a producer co-op marketing homemade produce that had grown out of the Women’s Institute).
Chris Herries grew up in Garvestone in rural Norfolk, the daughter of a teacher and a father who rose through the ranks of British Rail. She moved to Norwich in 1967. She initially worked as a lab technician at the newly opened University of East Anglia, then trained as a primary school teacher in Walsall.
She married her first husband, Ralph Herries, and started a teaching career in Hastings that would lead her to North Cornwall. She became involved in the national campaign “STOPP” against corporal punishment in schools, and the setting up of Treboy Free school – initially in her garage at home, and later in a local farmhouse.
Running as the Labour candidate for North Cornwall in the 1987 General Election, an unwinnable seat, she managed to nearly double Labour’s share of the vote. She later worked as a Member Relations Officer for the Oxford, Swindon & Gloucester Co-operative Society in Swindon and as an Area Manager for Oxfam shops in the South West.
Along with her partner John Blizzard (John was the Co-operative Party’s Regional Organiser for the South West) Chris became more involved in the co-operative movement in the South West. She joined her local Co-operative Retail Services Society in the 1980s and was first elected to a national board in 1998, helping oversee the establishment of the Co-op Group from 2000 onwards.
Having nursed John through a long illness, after his death she fulfilled a long-held ambition to retire to Norwich where she was elected to the City Council (2014-2018), chaired the planning committee and convinced her colleagues that Norwich should become a “Co-operative Council”.
She was passionate about inclusion, chaired the Co-operative Group’s Diversity Working Group and was a keen supporter of young people in the movement, most recently through Student Housing Co-ops.
Joe Fortune, general secretary of the Party said: “Chris was a remarkable co-operator. On top of the very many other aspects of her life, she dedicated many years to the Party, individual co-ops and co-op movement organisations. She was a passionate NEC member and a great chair. She leaves an enormous co-operative legacy.
“Chris was a great source of support to me and the whole staff team and I know she was that to many others as well … Chris was a friend to me and I will miss our conversations greatly.”
Councillor Sharon Taylor OBE, chair of the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network and leader of Stevenage Borough Council, said: “We are truly saddened to hear about the untimely death of our dear friend and colleague Chris Herries. Chris served on the CCIN Values & Principles Board from Dec 2015 – Dec 2017, representing Norwich City Council.
“She was known to many of us as a mentor, ally, and a guiding hand through the sometimes-unforgiving political maelstrom. A formidable co-operator, who didn’t pull her punches, Chris could be relied upon to provide sage advice and intelligence, and she used her experience and values to support the careers of many women in the sector. We are all richer for having known or worked with Chris. Our thoughts are with her family and her wider co-operative family at this sad time.”
Karin Christiansen, former general secretary of the Co-op Party, said: “She was active in so many different worlds, and made such a difference in all of them. Chris was at the heart of so many key organisations in the co-operative movement – the Party, the Group, Co-ops UK, Co-op News to name just a few, as a well as a Labour councillor, candidate and activist most recently in Norwich and within the Christian Socialist cause.
“She also had communities around the school she founded, the markets she saved, her undying commitment to Somerset cricket, the Norwich’s Historic Churches Trust – and so much more.”
Chris had many friends internationally and was a key part of the UK delegation at global meetings of the International Cooperative Alliance. At the time of her death, she chaired the Co-operative Party NEC, the Norwich Historic Churches Trust and was a Trustee of Norwich Consolidated Charities. She was a keen allotment holder and a friend and mentor to many. Chris Herries will be greatly missed – not least by her cat, Pud, who is safely settled in with a friend.
A tribute site for Chris Herries has been set up at christineherries.muchloved.com. For those wishing to make a donation, this contains links to the two charities that were close to her heart, Unicef and Medicin Sans Frontier.
There is also a Facebook Group celebrating her life at facebook.com/groups/CelebratingChrisHerries