A modern group of co-operators has come together, 170 years after the start of the retail movement, to show what co-operative pioneers look like today.
In 1844, the 28 Rochdale Pioneers joined forces to source cheaper food, and helped to inspire a sector which is now more vibrant and diverse than ever.
But today’s co-operators are responding to different needs – and Wales Co-operative Centre wondered what the movement’s modern pioneers would look like.
To find out, it recruited 14 pioneers from across Wales, and discovered that co-ops are still blazing a trail in their sectors, from manufacturing, retail and communications to training, pubs and football clubs.
To celebrate this, and mark Co-operatives Fortnight, it gathered the new pioneers to recreate an iconic photo of their Rochdale forebears.
The 2014 co-operative pioneers believe that co-ops have an important role to play in supporting communities and developing the economy of Wales – where the sector is worth £1.54bn per year and employs 11,000 people.
Derek Walker, chief executive of the centre, said: “Each of our pioneers knows that co-operatives are viable and sustainable business models. They are symbolic of a resurgence of interest in co-operation and socially focused business models.”
One of these pioneers, Alison Banton, is a founder member of Dulas, a world-renowned renewable energy and consultancy specialist, based in Machynlleth. Since 2009, it has appeared on the Welsh Fast Growth 50 list four times.
She said: “It’s important for me to be able to engage in our democratic process, to have input into strategy and key business decisions – it makes the day job more satisfying!”
Another modern pioneer, Peter Jones, is chair of the supporters trust at fan-owned Wrexham Football Club. He said: “Our experience of co-ops within the football world has seen a growth in fan-owned clubs.”
And Marc Jones, a member of Saith Seren, a community-owned co-operative pub and Welsh learning centre in Wrexham, said: “Co-ops and social enterprises are the one way that communities can battle back and take control of their local shops, pubs, services and factories.”
Ivor Williams of Siop y Bobl, a community-owned co-operative shop in the Gower village of Llanmadoc, agrees.
“One of the ways the national economy can grow is through its long tradition of co-operatives in Wales,” he said. “We are small in size but large in numbers, enough to make a difference. Expand the co-operatives, expand the economy.”
Gillian Lonergan, head of heritage resources at the Co-operative Heritage Trust, helped with the creation of the new pioneers’ photo.
She said: “As the Rochdale model was adopted by communities, people wanted to know what the Pioneers looked like. In 1865, the original Pioneers still in Rochdale were invited to a photographer’s studio. Copies of the photograph were requested from across the world and it is still one of the best known images of co-operation.
“The story of the Pioneers has inspired generations of co-operators. We were delighted to support the Wales Co-operative Centre in putting together their own interpretation of the iconic image and it is inspiring to see that the spirit of co-operation is so vibrant in Wales today.”
In this article
- Alison Banton
- Co-operative Heritage Trust
- Co-operative Retail Services
- Derek Walker
- Gillian Lonergan
- Ivor Williams
- Marc Jones
- Peter Jones
- Renewable energy
- Rochdale Pioneers
- Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers
- Saith Seren
- Wales Co-operative Centre
- Wrexham Football Club
- Copy Editor
- Desk Editor