To celebrate the Co-operative Party Centenary, the North East & North Cumbria Region held an event at the Beamish Museum , the North East Open Air Museum. The award winning museum was chosen because it celebrates working folk and their families , their struggles and achievements. At the heart of their rebuilt 1913 town centre is the Annfield Plain Industrial Co-operative Society -showing the central position of the Co-operative in the type of environment in which our Party was born.

Members and guests were invited to attend one of the two meetings arranged to give a historical background to the Party, with the opportunity to see relative archival items from the museum’s resource centre, items from the Co-operative Heritage Trust, literature and posters.

On Saturday, as delegates at the Co-operative Party Centenary Conference in London were listening to Jeremy Corbyn stating that a Labour Government would promote co-operative groups with the aim of doubling the size of the sector, in Durham we were looking to the past with our sights set on a better and co-operative future.

Visitors, tourists and visiting groups to the museum alongside our members and guests were also able to access the Archives room and look at the display and discuss items with the archivist and a Co-operative Party member present. Although our items were limited, they were a point of interest for all.

One of the most important items was the minutes of the Annual Congress of the Co-operative Union 1927, accepting the agreement of the National Committee of the Co-operative Party and NEC of the Labour Party to “an amicable understanding between the two movements thar will ultimately assist in achieving the ideal of a co-operative commonwealth”.

This agreement – known as the Cheltenham Agreement, established the alliance and partnership between our two parties that exists to this day, and is the reason for the speech from the leader of the Labour Party to the Centenary Conference.

The display also included items from Beamish’s collection, documenting the history of the co-operative movement here in the North East. This included photos of the major industrial complex at Pelaw, Gateshead which existed from the late 19th Century through to the 1970s. The name ‘Pelaw CWS’ appeared on products as diverse as pharmaceuticals, domestic cleaning products, shoe polish, other commodities, as well as shirts and clothing.

Other items includef, milk tokens from the co-operative dairy, and soaps – all local co-op. Of course reference was made to the Annfield Plain Co-operative Store and the items visitors would find within. These quite clearly showed the products made in the movement, and foreign trade for imported products with an eye on co-op values and principles, shipped in CWS vessels and stored in CWS warehouses. Before the Centenary Presentation, Bala Nair ( North Durham & City Branch Secretary) and John Creaby (Regional Chair) met some Malaysian students on a visit to the UK who were touring the museum and answered their queries about the event.

The second part of the day at Beamish was a presentation on the Party’s Centenary, open to our members and guests only – however some visitors did sit in!

The programme included a welcome on behalf of the Regional Party, and an introductory presentation considering the roots of co-operatives from their early conception, to Robert Owen, the Rochdale Pioneers, the formulation of the co-operative principle and values, retail and the Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) , the Co-operative Women’s Guild, International Co-operative Alliance, and the movement’s eventual decision in the late 19th century to begin venturing into politics by monitoring parliamentary activity.

The second element was the movement’s formal entry in politics, and the eventual arrival of a distinct political party 1917. We then discussed the Party’s history over the past hundred years through to the present day, including the signing of the Cheltenham Agreement, the Co-operatives Commission in the early 2000s, and John McDonnell’s pledge last year to put co-operative values and principles at the heart of the Co-operative / Labour policies to empower communities to tackle inequality.

2017 – 100 years of Co-operative Party politics.

We have celebrated our Centenary year with a new acknowledgement of the need for co-operative values not just in one sector, but across the whole economy.

Our new Centenary banner was marched for the first time at the Durham Miners‘ Gala in July, to a gathering estimated at 100,000. At our Annual Conference being held in London on the same weekend, we saw a mass of delegates and visitors, speeches including the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, more members and record numbers of Co-operative & Labour MPs, Welsh Assembly members, Scottish Parliamentarians and Lords.

Of course it would be nothing without the members, now in greater numbers, as those members and guests present look forward to a future with the hope of progress, working to achieve our historic values and principles for which triumph our pioneers struggled.

Our thanks to all the staff and volunteers at Beamish Museum for such a wonderful day.

Special thanks to those with whom we were directly involved Lisa, Ashley, Alix Shauna and Connor. A further thanks to Connor, the Beamish archivist who was with us all day .

Organisers Bala Nair and John Creaby