I can’t be bothered to remember significant numbers. I even have to look up my mobile phone number. However, there is one number that has been indelibly printed in my brain, 19517. This is the number I had to give to the shopkeeper every time I was sent to the local co-op to buy groceries for my mother when I was a child. A share of the Co-op profit, the dividend, was allocated to each member according to how much they spent in the shop over the course of the year. My mother and all our neighbours would go on an annual pilgrimage to the store to collect their ‘divi’, along with all the other members in the area.
I thought this quaint (though cruel from the child’s perspective) practice had died out until I moved to Wooldale and for £1 joined the local Co-op founded in 1886, where you still quote your number and they write it on your till receipt. In the true spirit of the co-op number I have also committed this sacred numeral to memory.
The foundations of the Co-operative movement were laid down in the Mill town of Rochdale in northern England in 1844 by 28 poverty stricken weavers. They wanted a change from the practice of being tied to buying their food from the mill owner’s shop where prices were high and the food was poor quality. They were driven to change the rules to create a different way for them to buy sugar, flour, butter, oatmeal and candles, so they founded the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers and set out their seven Rochdale Principles for a co-operative organisation:
- Open membership
- Democratic control (one person, one vote)
- Distribution of surplus in proportion to trade
- Payment of limited interest on capital
- Political and religious neutrality
- Cash trading (no credit)
- Promotion of education
They captured the radicalising mood of their time and soon other Co-operatives, like the Wooldale Co-operative, were springing up across the country. These principles changed the world forever, not only for consumer retailing but as a model for bringing a social conscience and an ethical stance to business. As such, the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers fulfil all our current criteria as exemplars of Paradigmeering.
For those who are interested visit www.wooldale.coop to see how these principles are still very much alive today.