Moves are afoot to revive a co-operative newspaper in south Yorkshire.
Principle 5, the Yorkshire Co-operative Resource Centre, is hoping to bring the Sheffield Co-operator back to life.
The original was a monthly eight-page broadsheet with an impressive circulation of 30,000 published by the local Co-operative Party and delivered door to door.
From May 1922 to July 1939, citizens of Sheffield were kept up to date with local news about the Co-operative Party and wider issues in the co-op movement. With the advent of the Second World War the newspaper ceased publication and eventually all its 170 editions were bound in leather and handed over to the council’s library service.
A one-off commemorative edition published in 2017 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Co-operative Party was such a success that it was followed by others in 2018 and 2020 – its front page still in the old-fashioned style and layout of its predecessor but focusing in a very timely fashion on the co-operative response to Covid-19. Another edition is now in the pipeline – although like everything else, it has been delayed by the pandemic.
Editor Chris Olewicz is hoping to build on what has been achieved so far with more frequent publication and by involving more people in the venture to build an editorial team.
He says: “The Sheffield Co-operator was very well received in 2017 so we decided to do another – and it has followed on from there.
“What we have been trying to do is use it as a platform to promote ideas. We have included various articles about what’s currently happening in local co-operatives in Sheffield but we also want to tap into the enthusiasm for wider initiatives like the Preston model for local councils, which can help us start building the foundations for a new co-operative agenda which does not rely on central government.”
So far the publication has been a small but professional operation – the most recent edition saw over 2,000 hard copies distributed everywhere from libraries and cinemas to radical bookshops like News From Nowhere in Liverpool. Costs were paid by appropriate adverts from local co-ops . It can also be read online at the Principle 5 website.
All three editions of the Co-operator have been put together by Chris and lifelong co-operator Steve Thompson, who founded Principle 5 resource centre in 2013.
Housed in Aizlewoods Mill, Sheffield, its impressive collection of books, pamphlets, publications (including historic collections of Co-operative News) and other materials is a key resource for students of co-operative history.
Chris is particularly inspired by the success of the Bristol Cable, a newspaper co-operative founded in 2014 which now has 2,000 members and is published in print and online. It won the 2019 British Journalism Award for local journalism and was shortlisted for a 2020 Orwell Foundation Prize.
“Local papers have been struggling for years and the quality has decreased everywhere,” says Chris. “The success of the Bristol Cable shows there is a place for alternative news outlets but I know the effort to get something similar off the ground here would be huge. However it is something for us to aim for.”
The 2021 edition of the Sheffield Co-operator will look at the wider impact of Covid-19 on the city and the way in which the community rallied round delivering food to the vulnerable and organising in a co-operative way. One of the biggest initiatives was Project Food Hall, which fed over 12,000 people in the city and recruited an army of volunteers, who gave 7,000 hours of their time.
There will also be in-depth analysis of issues around food poverty and how a changed world might adapt and promote better accessibility and distribution of a decent diet in a more collective way.
Chris adds that Principle 5 has just published the first in what he hopes will be a series of pamphlets about co-operative and socialist visionaries; the pamphlet is chapter taken from the autobiography of Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), poet, philosopher, and early activist for gay rights and animal rights, who lived with his partner on a farm at Dronfield, halfway between Sheffield and Chesterfield.
More pamphlets are already planned.
“Looking to the future there is a decision to be made if we are to continue publishing more frequently,” says Chris. “For example, would we be a strictly co-operative newspaper or broaden things out more around the wider labour movement? Principle 5 has been extremely successful as a library and education centre for the co-op movement so we are looking at how you spread that resource and potential for education.
“At the moment everything is dependent on what happens regarding Covid-19 but ideally we would move in the direction of the Bristol Cable, so we might need to look at whether we can create a separate co-operative out of what we have created so far. We will be asking everyone involved to contribute with their ideas. But we are very hopeful and optimistic.”