Society Stories 4 - Tamworth Thank you Tamworth! The Heritage Trust would like to thank the board members and staff of the Tamworth Cooperative Society for a generous donation they have recently made in support of our charity. Many of our visitors don't realise that the reason we are free to visit is because our charity was formed through the support of the wider co-op movement and relies on a combination of investments and raising our own income from hire of our premises, workshops and events, but as a not-for profit organisation, we invest our resources in promoting the values and principles of the movement. Donations like the one Tamworth Society have made help us to improve the visitor experience and facilities for the visitors and can help us reach out to other areas beyond Rochdale and Manchester where we are based. Why is this? Because although our premises are small, ours is a global movement and the idea of co-operative societies spread in the UK after the Rochdale Pioneers set up their store in 1844 in working class communities struggling to adapt to a changing environment. So what about Tamworth? Why does it still have an independent society and membership so many years after other regional organisations either merged with bigger co-ops or went out of business? Is it something to do with the character and geography of the area? What is now the town was the centre of the ancient independent Kingdom of Mercia, close to the River Tame where the name comes from and was an early fortified town protected by King Offa and Eathelfleada (the ‘Lady of the Mercians’) as an important agricultural area where crops grew well. Coops tended to be established in places where the community had experienced population change and where that population was reliant on one type of work. Unlike the places in the Midlands where people were totally dependent on pits and factories, Tamworth saw a population upswing with the coming of railways to move food to cities and industrialist moving their businesses along the Coventry Canal. By the 20th Century, brick and ceramics works and engineering firms had established and attracted more workers whose descendants would eventually work in manufacturing vehicles in the 20th Century (Reliant Robin vans and Metrocab taxis). Although the spread of co-operative ideas in the Midlands in the 1860’s saw numerous attempts to get a co-operative going in Tamworth; starting with the nearby Fazeley Society in 1865, it was not until the price of beef rose beyond the reach of the relatively well paid railway employees factory operatives and miners who earned more than agricultural labourers which prompted Tamworth people to collaborate and copy the format of the Rochdale Pioneers, renting a cottage as a store and then their first society premises in Church Street in 1886. Their first employee was Elizabeth Bradford who worked 70 hours per week for 9 shillings to cater for a working population who had to do their shopping before and after work as well as at the weekends. Typically for local co-ops as membership expanded, the society began to provide not simply basic necessities, but luxury goods and other member benefits and needed a purpose built venue – a ‘central premises’, which was opened in 1897 at Colehill. The society vacates that historic building at the end of this year in order to modernise the ways the society works and allow the commercial building to be renovated for re-use. The society is a rare example of one able to weather the storms of change, expand and adapt to the needs of local people to remain independent. The decisions made by Tamworth society in the 20th and 21st Centuries (such as working with the Birmingham Society to open a Superstore in 1980) are just as important in understanding its heritage and place in forming the local identity as the foundation story to understand the special character of a place. Tamworth continues to provide support for community projects and good causes ‘on the doorstep’ as well as having supported the shared heritage assets we care for which are the touchstone for co-ops large and small all over the country. Our thanks and good wishes to Tamworth and it’s members.