Followers of the Robert Owen Group’s website will have noticed that the Members’ Council has posted a paper on member engagement for wider discussion and feedback. We do...

Followers of the Robert Owen Group’s website will have noticed that the Members’ Council has posted a paper on member engagement for wider discussion and feedback. We do encourage all our members to read this paper and engage in the feedback – we need your thoughts and views on what is a challenging area for all co-operatives.

The Members’ Council at their recent meeting discussed at length the concept of loyalty as it is related to engaged members and this is reflected in the discussion paper. Loyalty is a tricky concept and particularly relevant in the contemporary world where the traditional bonds of loyalty are visibly changing and weakening. Loyalty is usually seen as a virtue, albeit a problematic one. It tends to be constituted by perseverance in an association to which a person has become intrinsically committed. It is found in friendships where loyalty is integral and many other relationships and associations seek to encourage it as an aspect of affiliation or membership. Our families expect it, organisations often demand it and countries do what they can to foster it. Two of the key issues in any discussion on loyalty concerns its status as a virtue and, if that status is granted, the limits which should be placed on loyalty.

As a working definition, loyalty can be seen as a practical disposition to persist in an intrinsically valued associational attachment. The strong feelings and devotion often associated with loyalty have led some to believe that loyalty is primarily a feeling or sentiment with an expression in actions. The test of loyalty is in a sense a measure of the resultant conduct rather than an intensity of feeling. It is primarily a glue which bonds the individual to the people or the organisation with a perseverance which others can feel. The loyal member of a co-operative organisation such as the Robert Owen group stays with and remains committed even when it is disadvantageous or costly to carrying on so doing. Our Robert Owen Group Members’ Council discussion paper on member engagement advances the notion that a sense of ownership of a co-operative is  an emotional response.

Although we are inclined to speak of loyalty as though it were a free floating practical concept it is also common to associate loyalty with certain natural or conventional groupings. In fact our loyalty tends to be expressed in loyalties. In other words one that tends to be tied to conventional associations such as friendships, families, organisations, professions, countries, religions, trade unions, sports teams and so on. Our loyalties are closely bound to those we call ‘ours’. Thus my loyalties are to my friends, my co-operative, my butcher’s shop, my school, my family, my country , not yours unless yours are also mine. Accordingly the fate or well-being of the objects of loyalty become bound up with my own. We feel shame or pride in their actions and we will take risks or carry burdens for them.

The primary subjects of loyalty tend to be individual persons, but loyalty is not restricted to these. Mutuality is a feature of many loyalties, and it is often an expectation of the loyal individual that the collective to which the individual is loyal will also be loyal in return. In short loyalty becomes a necessary two way road. Thus our members of the Robert Owen Group must see clear benefits in co-operative membership and be clear that members are also loyal to one another on both an individual and on a collective basis. Remember the CLARST pillars of a healthy co-operative:
  • Loyalty
  • Co-operation
  • Altruism
  • Reciprocity
  • Solidarity
  • Trust.

For a co-operative organisation with a largely school based membership this mutuality of purpose will be challenging to achieve in the current competitive climate in the public services.

However, it is not the part of loyalty to be compliant or servile, though loyalty may be corrupted into such. In any bonds of loyalty within a co-operative structure there must be openness to corrective criticism on the part of both the co-operative and the member. This qualification is essential if we are to uphold our common value of democracy. What must happen is that the opposition stays within bounds that are compatible with the well-being or best interests or continued business health of the co-operative. Generally speaking a loyal membership will not advocate rebellion or revolution for such actions would endanger the whole structure. However, Co-operatives must not become essentially conservative bodies hell bent on maintaining the status quo. They must be capable of evolution, reform and change which is member owned and driven. It is informed member loyalty which will allow the co-operative to grow and develop as it survives within a turbulent world.

The Robert Owen Group was created some twenty one years ago by our pioneer Headteachers who knew and understood the potential of a member owned co-operative held together by bonds of loyalty. We are now at a cross roads where far too many of the new custodians of our schools, colleges and community groups do not understand the true nature and value of co-operative loyalty. Together we must work hard to re-create this mutual bonding. The Members’ Council discussion paper is the start. Please engage with it.

Go to to read the paper and take part in the consultation. 
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