As I waited in the reception of the Co-operative offices in Manchester I noticed a painting of a shop named ‘The Store’ on ‘Toad Lane’. I studied it for a while, looking for clues as to the significance of this rather random looking painting.
As part of the Sustainable and Solidarity Economy (SuSY) project I am managing, I have had the pleasure of working with the Co-operative College. During our last meeting, Angela had mentioned that our next meeting would be at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. I wasn’t too sure what to expect or why she seemed so excited about me visiting a town which gets media attention for things which are far from positive.
But, I’m not one to complain (too much) so off I travelled from busy London, to busy Manchester to less busy Rochdale. As I walked up the road to the museum, it felt strangely familiar- where have I seen this place before? ‘The Store’ with a perfectly green door, and the name of the road ‘Toad Lane’ from the painting!
We walked through the green doors into a small space with a little wooden bench to our right and a little table and chair next to it, and what looked like a shop desk to our left (two barrels with a wooden board on top). This room was a place for stories, history and the beginning of a new way of doing things.
Where we stood was the first shop set up by the ‘Pioneers’ who were the founders of the co-operative movement in 1844. What they created was based on learning, principles and ideals which would be shared with those who believed that change was necessary during a time of severe poverty and inequality. Britain at that time was a place where food prices were high and food adulteration was common. From adding water to milk to adding gravel to oatmeal.
It was during hardship, corruption and poverty that these 28 individuals came together and sought a new sustainable way of living. I was inspired by my visit to the museum, to think that from one room, their vision has become a world-wide movement is incredible.
For me, it brought home a few things:
- To create a just and sustainable world, we have to understand each other and work towards mutual benefit.
- During times of hardship we have to push the boundaries of our imagination.
- We have to encourage and develop critical thinking so that communities can develop organic and sustainable models.
The SuSY project is identifying sustainable models which incorporate ethical values, shared ownership and a community benefit, across the globe. In the UK, I have spoken to people who have created initiatives which are changing the way communities work together and support each other—while ensuring financial viability and innovation. It is exciting and refreshing to see that there is always another way of doing things.
This project has been funded by the EC and will map initiatives across Europe and the Global South and share best practises in order to find alternative models to alleviate poverty. Watch this space for upcoming events, posts and to find out how you can get involved!!