The Rochdale Pioneers open shop
From Miles Ashworth, flannel weaver, to James Wilkinson, shoemaker, the list of the 28 founding members of the Rochdale Pioneers encompasses numerous trades, their ‘persuasions’ also varying – only four of them highlighted their church affiliations, while 14 were socialists. But they united in common cause against the oppressive poverty facing them in 1840s Rochdale.
For months before opening their original cooperative shop in Toad Lane, Rochdale, the 28 scrimped and saved to build up capital of £28. While they did this they had time to prepare what is a lasting testament to their work, the Rochdale Principles, wherein the first object was: “arrangements for the pecuniary benefit, and the improvement of the social and domestic condition of its members.” This most immediately was done via their 31 Toad Lane shop, at first only open on Saturday and Monday evenings, and because of lack of capital limited then to sales of candles, oatmeal, flour, butter, and sugar, though soon they added tobacco and tea.
Rochdale was not the first cooperative organisation; but it was the first to succeed, and brilliantly too: within 10 years more than 500 such stores opened in Britain working to the Rochdale cooperative model, offering necessary goods – of good quality - at low margins, the Rochdale innovation being that a dividend was then paid annually to members according to profits made by the organisation and the purchases of each member.
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