Obituary: Alan Middleton, former director at Lincolnshire Co-op and Co-operatives UK

‘His contribution to the co-operative movement, as a guardian of good co-operative corporate governance, is undisputed’

Alan Middleton, a former director of Lincolnshire Co-op (1966-2010) and of Co-operatives UK (1980-2010), has died aged 80.

Mr Middleton was a lifelong servant of the co-operative movement, and was an active citizen in the city of Lincoln, serving as a Justice of the Peace for 31 years – one of the youngest ever appointed when he first took the role in 1979.

He also did football commentary for Lincoln Hospital Radio, made recordings for Lincoln Talking newspaper, and trained with St Barnabas Lincolnshire Hospice as a family support volunteer (bereavement counsellor). His service to the community saw him awarded the Lincoln City Mayor’s medal.

Lincolnshire Co-op CEO Ursula Lidbetter said: “Alan was part of the bedrock of our society. He was dedicated to our progress over his many years on our board, but always kept that degree of objectivity which is so important in any director. His focus on governance was valued throughout the movement and we still quote some of his guiding principles all these years later.   

“After his retirement, he wrote a book about our 150 year history and he remained connected as chair of our co-operative development agency until just a few months ago. 

“Alan was an active citizen locally too, serving as a Justice of the Peace and recording news reports for Lincoln Talking Newspapers for the Blind.  

“He was an unassuming man, who quietly and unstintingly carried out his duties without ceremony.  

“He was known and respected by many co-operators in Lincolnshire and beyond. We will all miss him.” 

Don Morris, chair of Co-operatives UK, said: “His contribution to the co-operative movement, as a guardian of good co-operative corporate governance is undisputed, and all of us at Co-operatives UK send our condolences to his family, friends and former colleagues.”

Born in Lincoln in 1941, Mr Middleton took a lifelong pride in his city and began his career at what was then the Lincoln Co-operative Society, taking his first job after leaving school at co-op’s share and wages departments.

He went on to serve for 28 years in the Treasurer’s Department of the Lincolnshire County Council, starting with the payroll department and progressing eventually to be exchequer manager, until his retirement in 1993.

He had always wanted to stand for the board of directors at Lincoln Co-op. Once he was no longer an employee he stood for election and served between 1966 and 2010 – a 44-year stint that made him one of the longest serving board members in the retail movement – until his retirement in May 2010. 

This role fitted with his awareness of good governance, which provides the structure and framework to a co-operative so that it discharges its duty of care to the members. Mr Middleton was nationally renowned for his expertise in this area, and his determination to make a difference and challenge the movement on governance was reflected in his other co-op roles.

For instance, as a director of Co-operatives UK from 1979 to 2010, Mr Middleton played a leading role in writing its corporate governance code of best practice. He also served on the Midland sectional board, served as president of Co-operative Congress in 1998 – when the national event was held in Lincoln – and was a key player in the Co-operative Commission of 2000.  

Serving as an associate lecturer of the Co-operative College from 1989 to 2010, he worked in particular on its director and member education programmes. 

Former College principal Mervyn Wilson said: “Alan was one of the first lay co-operators to recognise the need for substantial improvements in co-operative governance – years before the scandals of the early 1990s led to the review and subsequent adoption of the first Co-operative Governance Code of Best Practice in 1994.

“He was one of the advocates of the Institute of Co-operative Directors and of Director training”.

Mr Wilson praised Mr Middleton’s “clinical insights into the weaknesses in co-operative governance”, which were softened by a keen sense of humour.

“He took those skills into his work with the College, particularly on the Functions Authority and Roles of the Director programmes. One of the exercises we developed for that course looked at case studies of governance issues, with participants routinely trying to work out which society the case was from.

“Alan, though, had drawn on his wider experience working in local authorities – highlighting that abuse can emerge in any organisation unless policies and procedures are in place to safeguard them. Alan represented the very best in democratic elected leadership and will be remembered by all who had the pleasure and privilege of working with him.”

As a celebration of his 40 years service to the co-op movement, Mr Middleton wrote a book, The Owd Boy and the Oss, a reminiscence of life in Lincoln in the 1920s and 30s, drawing on the stories and memories he had heard from co-op friends and colleagues. 

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Pat, daughters Amy and Ruth; and grandchildren Isobel, Henry and Samuel.