Controversy as National Guild of Co-operators is wound up after 93 years

Some members are unhappy at the decision, saying they wanted to explore ways to revive the organisation

The National Guild of Co-operators has disbanded after members voted to wind up the organisation at a special meeting in Barnsley on 30 March.

The six members at the meeting voted to transfer its funds to a new entity, the NGC Co-op Fund, which will distribute grants to small co-ops and community organisations until exhausted. Only members whose membership was up to date at October 2018 could participate.

The guild dated back to 1926 and was the first co-operative guild bringing together men and women.

Ray Henderson, a member of the Guild for over four years who served as treasurer, says its main challenge was an ageing membership and a lack of active members. In the 1950s a guild branch in Barnsley boasted 1,000 members; but at the end, the whole guild had only 16 members and no branches.

The guild’s executive attributed the lack of active co-operators to the demise of the previous democratic structure at the Co-op Group. Under its old structure, the Group had area committees whose members were involved in their local guild branches, which received funding from the Group.

At a special general meeting in 2017 a new structure for the guild was agreed but no changes were made to implement it. In a letter sent to members in March to inform them about the intention to wind up the organisation, the executive council said the new structure was “unworkable” due to “lack of active co-operators”.

“At the meeting on 30 March we agreed that the remaining funds would be put into a NGC Co-op Fund. When we get the final accounts from the auditors we’ll be able to do that,” said Mr Henderson, adding that members would be kept informed.

But John Courtneidge, a guild member for over 20 years who opposed its closure but was unable to attend the special meeting, said: “A number of us are extremely unhappy about this. The guild had such an important role to play.”

Along with two other members, he wanted to postpone the meeting to explore other alternatives, including reviving the guild. They say the closure is the result of inaction on the part of the National Council, whose secretary Maurice Austin stopped engaging with the organisation, and claim an action plan on membership, adopted in 2014, was not implemented. At that time, the guild had a dozen branches and around 200 members.

The guild’s closure follows that of the Co-operative Women’s Guild, which was wound up in 2015 after 132 years.