On Saturday 27 June a new WWI exhibition is to be unveiled at the Rochdale Pioneers Museum. On the Outbreak of WWI in 1914, there were over 1500 co-operative societies in Great Britain, with 150 thousand employees and 3.1 million members. The ‘From Shop Floor to Front Line’ exhibition explores the impact of war on co-operative members and employees including the stories of co-operators who signed up to fight and those who refused to take up arms for reasons of conscience. It also reveals how the co-operative movement contributed to the war effort and how women’s roles in co-operative stores changed.
The exhibition addresses the difficult moral decisions faced by co-operators as they had to decide what comes first, co-operation and country? Visitors can discover why co-operator William Ewart Boulter was awarded the Victoria Cross and listen testimony from George Dutch, a co-operator and conscientious objector who was tortured and humiliated for his beliefs. The exhibition shows how the co-operative movement’s factories, supply chains and premises were utilised to meet the nation’s needs. It illustrates the impact on troop morale of cigarettes, chocolate and Christmas puddings sent to the front by co-operative societies. Testimony from appeals for the exemption of male branch managers also reveal interesting perspectives on the perceived capabilities of the female staff who stepped in to cover roles of conscripted men. As Mr Sutcliffe Manager of the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society explained “A shop might drag on, but it wouldn’t be efficiently managed.”
“This exhibition is the largest temporary exhibition the Rochdale Pioneers Museum has hosted. With the support of a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, extensive research has been carried out by staff, volunteers and placement student”, explains Museum Officer Jonathan Priestley who has been in charge of the exhibition from the planning phase to its launch. “The first floor of the museum has been transformed into a dedicated temporary exhibition space and a ‘Co-operative Voices’ blog has been developed shares the stories of co-operative workers and members during the conflict.”
The ‘From Shop Floor to Front Line’ exhibition is suitable for all ages, with a variety of interactive activities including dressing up clothes, a family friendly exhibition trail and the opportunity to record a message for a soldier. The exhibition is part of a wider project which includes the opportunity for young people from Rochdale Youth Service to work with Rowbot Street CIC during the summer holidays to produce a range of short films inspired by the exhibition. Community groups, co-operative groups and local history societies are also invited to book a free workshop which includes a guided tour of the exhibition. If you are interested please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 01706 524920.
The grand opening of the exhibition will be on Saturday 27June to coincide with the Toad Lane Fun Day being held in conjunction with St Mary in the Baum Church and award-winning pub The Baum. The Fun Day includes stalls, Victoria toys and games, crafts, face painting, storytelling and much more. All are welcome to attend this free event which takes place between 11am and 3pm.
More information about both the ‘From Shop Floor to Front Line’ exhibition and the Toad Lane Fun Day can be found at: http://www.rochdalepioneersmuseum.coop/events. Alternatively you can call 01706 524920 or e-mail email@example.com. The ‘Co-operative Voices blog’ can be viewed at here or by searching #CoopWWI on twitter.