Co-operative heritage

A collaborative research team of historians has delved into the historical archives of the Co-operative Group and the Co-operative Wholesale Society to provide a comprehensive business history of the movement.

The research team from LJMU’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Newcastle University looked at 50 years’ worth of historical information explaining the growth of the co-operative movement until the 1950s, its decline up to the 1990s and its subsequent renaissance in the first decades of the 21st century.

Researchers were given exclusive access to the collections of historical records held in the National Co-operative Archives and at the Co-operative College in Manchester. The team also interviewed a number of senior figures within the movement, including several former chief executives.

The project aimed to raise public and internal awareness about the development of the co-operative model, linking in with the United Nations International Year of Cooperatives in 2012 and the 150th anniversary of the Co-operative Group in 2013.

The main insights of the research focus on the democratic and federal nature of the co-operative movement that helped it to become a national business leader in retail until the 1950s, but then proved to be a major factor precipitating a long period of decline into the 1990s. The research examines the strategies which enabled the Co-operative Group to reverse the decline and re-establish itself as a major commercial and social player (notwithstanding recent problems of corporate governance).

Research findings were shared with 350 members, senior managers and employees through a series of events designed to enable participants to incorporate this knowledge into their work activities. Participants reported that they felt they had learned more about the history of the movement, that this knowledge had made a difference to them and would help them in their work as ‘co-operators’.

The research team designed and delivered an educational module: 'Celebrating our Co-operative Heritage' based on the findings which covered the significance of the business model, the challenges it has faced and the strategies it has followed.

70 members and employees, elected by the Co-operative Group, attended the module events and were assessed on their understanding of the content and their plans to disseminate information to the wider membership. Successful attendees received a 'Certificate in Co-operation'. Module feedback showed that participants felt the research had enhanced their understanding of the movement, which would help them to be more effective when communicating to members, colleagues and the public.

Find out more about the research taking place within the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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