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Learning Co-operative Practices

Posted on 19th October 2012 in Learning, News

Did you know that this is the International Year of Co-operatives?

IYC logoNow a massive global movement, the flagship  co-operative society was founded in 1844 in Lancashire, UK, by the Rochdale Pioneers. Like Reshapers, they were founded with strong ethical principles. They agreed a set of rules and practices which were radical then and some still are radical today. For example, the rule ‘one member one vote’ applied at a time when women and working men could not vote for their Member of Parliament and the rule also stated that equality of the sexes also applied to membership, at a time when women could not own property in their own right. They opened the shop for public trading in the evenings – for working people who would not be allowed away from their workplace during the day. Profit was shared equally between members according to the amount purchased and along with a fixed rate of interest, this practice ensured no greedy financiers could take the profit from the people. They pledged to provide affordable housing and land for cultivation to improve members social and economic conditions, at a time when there was no national social housing scheme.

In a legacy Reshapers are proud to continue, they agreed ‘a definite percentage of profits should be allotted to education‘. This was at a time when the law prohibited working men from educating themselves.They founded a library with 1500 books, ran lectures and classes and its is believed they taught many of  their members to read and write. This commitment to education continues today through regional co-operative societies and the national Co-operative College (where you will also find lots of information about the Rochdale Pioneers.)

As a social enterprise, we carry on the tradition of running our company according to strong ethical principles, paying a fair wage to workers and putting all profit back into the business or into community projects that align with our mission and values. That’s why we bank with the Co-operative Bank and use an ethical insurance company. We are also part of the community education and open learning movement, committed to ensuring learning is available to everyone especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. That’s why we will be adding free learning courses as a core part of our service.

lighting fireOne of my favourite sayings about learning is  ” Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” (commonly attributed to William Yeats but actually a paraphrase of Plutarch) Researching about the Rochdale Pioneers for this post, my passion for community learning was re-ignited. The Pioneers struggled to find a way to make their co-operative principles work against all the odds, and they learnt and developed as they went. They were strongly principled and the fire in their belly, fuelled by the experiences of poverty and oppression, is what drove them to succeed without compromising or letting go of their core values. Educating their members was a way out of poverty, of ignorance, of deprivation, of powerlessness, into a society where people are informed, can make choices and have dignity and respect. To me this is the best of community learning. It’s learning that both comes from the community experience and transforms it. It’s the community developing itself. It’s mutual co-operation and self-help. The first free learns that I write for Reshapers will be about the people, ideas and practices that have transformed me and my community. I hope they’ll light your fire.

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