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Following the footsteps of the Rochdale Pioneers and seeing where it all began....

On a sunny Thursday morning, our intrepid band of travellers piled into the car towards the Rochdale Pioneers museum, in, you guessed it, Rochdale. 

 With a smooth journey down, we arrived at the museum to await the students of the Morecambe Bay Leadership academy with their soon to be year 10 art teacher. It felt weird to be on what was essentially a school trip, but to not be one of the students.

The building itself was tucked away into Toad Lane, accompanied by some gorgeous shop fronts, which if you blinked on the way past you would miss.

Here you will find the original store of which the pioneers rented in 1867, reopening as the museum in 1931.

 Upon entering you are transported through time into a small shop front with shiny scales, archaic looking displays and prices in a currency long since forgotten to most. 

Safely up in the learning centre, we had the wonderfully energetic reenactment from our host Cat, of the origins of the Rochdale Pioneers all stemming with a conversation in a pub in 1844 (had by a group of those following the dry temperance movement might I add) and there 26 miles round trip they took by foot to ensure they could stock for the shop that would provide for so many. Made all the more reverential by sitting in the same room the founders had worked from. This was not lost on the students either, their enthusiasm rang through in their answers and comments.

Once armed with the knowledge of the trials and tribulations endured by the founders, we ventured out into the wilds of Rochdale for a tour of some of the notable buildings along the journey for what became the co-op we all know today.

As a keen architectural photographer, Rochdale certainly provided, had we not been on a whistle stop tour I could have spent all day purely looking at the buildings. Not only from an architectural viewpoint, but looking at the details and subtle clues of the histories of these buildings that had led to their current iterations. A passtime not uncommon when wandering around the buildings in Morecambe. 

 Not only were there intricacies of the structures themselves, but the amazing street art that was hidden down alleys and side streets bringing together scenes of the history of the town and the modern artistic expressions of the place and contemporary issues we face.

Returning to the museum with far more pictures on my camera than I would wish to say, the journeys continued in a mathematical treasure hunt to find out what lay within the wicker basket we had been presented with.

As soon as the groups were gathered and the locations announced, I made a beeline to be the responsible adult for the group headed to the graveyard. The kids set out to work on the questions based on dates and ages found on the headstones, whilst maths is not my forte, we had interesting discussions about the people who were laid to rest beneath.

‘Did they go to the original store? Had they supported the Pioneers in their pursuits? What kind of lives had they led?’

All too soon the questions were answered and we headed back to see who would unlock the prize! 

Whilst a valiant attempt was made in the maths (by adults and kids alike) the code was deciphered and the chocolate was gained.

After the dizzying excitment of revealing what was in the hamper, a moment of quiet contemplation was taken whilst looking at some of the archived items, showing fashions, recreation and practical items.

My personal favourite being the CWS band jacket and The Co-operative Women's Guild ceremonial chain.

Being able to see artifacts such as these offer inspiration to what the power of people can do, and the creative manners in which they achieved these goals.

Being in a community band myself, it is easy to see the impact of what creating music can do in uniting people and creating a sense of morale.

In creating our hub in the Centenary house building, not only would we have the opportunity to continue the next chapter of the story started by that conversation in a pub, but serve as the home where we can show our unity and impact on the community through creativity. 

What seems like an impossible task now, only serves to push us further and harder towards our goals. I should imagine there was moments where the first founders had felt like all the odds were stacked against them, but without their determination, the co-op as we know it would simply have never come to be.

 To be part of that legacy, and show the power of what our community can achieve through creativity would truly be a fantastic way to leave our mark, and allow for the flourishing continuum of serving the community for many generations to come.



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