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Building the Co-operative Commonwealth


Building the Co-operative Commonwealth

The UK Co-operative College, based in Manchester, is the educational arm of the British co-operative movement and home of the National Co-operative Archive. The College works with co-operatives throughout the world, promoting understanding of co-operative heritage, values and business structures.

A unique three-way partnership exists between UCLan historians, the Co-operative College and the People’s History Museum. Dr Nick Mansfield, former director of the People’s History Museum, has been the lynchpin of the partnership, providing curatorial advice to the Rochdale Pioneers Museum since 1990 and serving on the advisory board of the National Co-operative Archive from 2008. Mansfield has contributed to the development of permanent displays and learning programmes on the co-operative movement at the People’s History Museum and the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. Building upon the foundations set by Mansfield, Dr David Stewart, Dr Stephen Meredith, Dr Keith Vernon and Dr Billy Frank have developed three interlocking research projects in collaboration with the Co-operative College which explore the role of co-operatives in post-war colonial development and the history of co-operative politics and education.

In 2009 Stewart and Meredith successfully bid with the College for an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award studentship to explore the historic alliance between the Co-operative Party and the Labour Party. The successful applicant for the PhD studentship, Angela Whitecross has contributed towards the development of new permanent galleries on co-operative politics at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum and devised learning resources for use by the Co-operative Heritage Trust. Stewart also co-organised international, multidisciplinary conferences with the College in 2009 and 2012. The edited collection arising from the 2009 conference, The Hidden Alternative was published by United Nations University Press in 2012 to mark the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives. Vernon’s research on co-operative education was a prominent feature of these conferences and the above publication. In particular, his research has provided a historical reference point for the Co-operative College as it develops the movement’s rapidly expanding Co-operative Schools Network. Frank’s interest in colonial development has generated a dynamic international dimension to the partnership. Since 2011 Frank has forged a link with Moshi University College of Co-operative and Business Studies, Tanzania, through the appointment of one of its lecturers, Somo Seimu to a UCLan International PhD Scholarship exploring co-operative development in East Africa during the trans-colonial period. Furthermore, Frank, Stewart and Gaynor Wood of Futures have overseen undergraduate community history projects on the co-operative movement in Preston, which culminated in a student-led Co-operative Awareness Day in 2013, embedding co-operation in the teaching and research culture of the History team. UCLan students are currently engaged in oral testimony collection for the Co-operative College’s National Co-operative Oral History Project which aims to create an oral archive to be housed at the National Co-operative Archive.

By focusing on the international development strategies and politics and educational provision of a unique organisation that represents both social movement and business interests, these research projects are providing insights into under-researched features of twentieth-century social, political and business history. This ranges from tensions between co-operatives and the state, to African co-operatives’ dependency on British banks, and the relationships between co-operation and the working class.

  • Museum displays and learning programmes in the People’s History Museum’s £13m redevelopment project completed in March 2010. (c. 80,000 visitors per year)
  • Museum displays in the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum’s £1.5m redevelopment project completed in December 2012 (c. 6,000 visitors per year)


  • Dr Billy Frank
  • Dr Nick Mansfield
  • Dr Stephen Meredith
  • Dr David Stewart
  • Dr Keith Vernon



  • AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award 2009-Present, (£45,000)
  • Nick Mansfield, ‘Paternalistic consumer co-operatives in rural England, 1870-1930’, Rural History, 23, 2 (2012), pp.205-11.
  • David Stewart et al. (eds.), The Hidden Alternative: Co-operative Values, Past, Present and Future, (New York: United Nations University Press, 2012).
  • David Stewart, ‘“A party within a party”? The Co-operative Party-Labour Party alliance and the formation of the Social Democratic Party, 1974-81’, in The Hidden Alternative: Co-operative Values, Past, Present and Future, pp.137-156.
  • Keith Vernon, ‘Values and vocationalism: Educating the co-operative workforce in Britain, 1918-39’, in The Hidden Alternative: Co-operative Values, Past, Present and Future, pp.37-58.
  • Keith Vernon, ‘Co-operative Education and the State, c.1895-1935’, Forum, 55, 2 (2013), pp.293-308.

Conference Papers

  • Billy Frank, ‘‘Banking on Empire’: Decisions and Decision Makers in Britain’s Post-War Colonial Development Planning, 1939 - 1954’, 38th Annual Economic and Business Historical Society Conference, Baltimore, May 2013
  • Billy Frank, ‘”…a principal of dynamic value in progressive colonial policy”: Mainstreaming the co-operative ideal in British Africa 1945 – 1975’, Mainstreaming Co-operation: An Alternative for the 21st Century?, New Century House, Manchester, 3-5 July 2012
  • Nick Mansfield, ‘Paternalistic consumer co-operatives in rural England, 1870-1930’, International Rural History Conference, University of Sussex, April 2010
  • David Stewart, ‘The Co-operative Party and the formation of the Social Democratic Party’, Can Values Make a Difference? Co-operatives – moving from the Rochdale Pioneers to the 21st Century, New Century House, Manchester, 1-2 July 2009
  • David Stewart, ‘British retail co-operatives and the politics of resale price maintenance, 1945-1964’, European Social Science History Conference, University of Glasgow, 11-14 April 2012
  • David Stewart, ‘The Co-operative Party and resale price maintenance, 1949-1964’, Mainstreaming Co-operation: An Alternative for the 21st Century?, New Century House, Manchester, 3-5 July 2012
  • Keith Vernon, ‘Education for Co-operation. History and citizenship training in co-operative education, 1900–1939’, History of Education Society Conference, Winchester, 30 November-2 December 2012