Young People telling an age old tale

A CHT blog Post by Cat Jessop - Young Roots Project Officer 

Ever wondered how to keep the co-op story fresh?  How to make the dusty tale of Victorian gents living in Rochdale engaging to younger audiences?  In 2019 the Co-operative Heritage Trust found the answer - to get the kids to tell the story themselves, not only that, but let them own it and be proud of it.

Throughout 2019 the Co-operative Heritage Trust worked with a dedicated group of young people aged between 13-25 to explore Rochdale’s Pioneer Places thanks to funding awarded by the Heritage Lottery’s ‘Young Roots’ project.

The group came together to co-design the project at the start of 2019 and met every week from May to December to delve into Rochdale’s rich heritage.  They discovered the story behind the bricks and mortar of Toad Lane- the home of Rochdale Pioneers Museum and the world’s first successful consumer co-operative.  The young people spent the summer months touring the town and borough, hiking across the bleak Pennine Moors, retracing routes walked by co-operators and social reformers of the time. They explored every nook and cranny of Rochdale’s radical co-operative roots.  And what did they discover? An infectious enthusiasm and passion for their hometown. As one member, Umaymah said; 

"before this (I thought) ‘what’s so special about Rochdale?’ it’s just like any other town, and then you find out we started co-operation, we worked together… it’s interesting to learn about the place you live in, to have pride and say ‘Oh yerh! My town did this, what did your town do?!"

The Pioneer Places group were keen to share their knowledge and experience with others. They appeared live on Roch Valley Radio to talk about the project, but their desire to tell people about the movement didn’t stop there so every month the group travelled to Manchester to write and record their own podcast with Podcast.co at Federation House, Manchester which is a co-operative building.  Covering a variety of topics about living in Rochdale from street toilets to haunted heritage; there no 'off limits' subjects.  The group all agreed that creating podcasts gave them the perfect platform to tell the story in their own words.  According to Emilia;   

"I had no clue Rochdale was so interesting… we have all discovered so much about our heritage and (recording the) podcasts allowed us to share this’."

This amazing (and often amusing) podcast can be found on all major download platforms; just search for ‘Pioneer Places’ and click to subscribe.  

As the project drew to a close, the Pioneer Places group chose to celebrate and pass on their infectious enthusiasm by creating a short film to tell the Pioneer’s story in their own words.  Working with staff from the Co-operative Heritage Trust, the young people devised a punchy script full of facts, role play and their favourite co-op tales.  During the Autumn they worked with Rochdale based videographer Andy Hirst to learn more about audio visual presentation and film on locations across the town. From canal tow paths to the slippery cobbles of the Cotton Famine Road on Rooley Moor, the group directed and starred in a mini masterpiece. 

In December the Pioneer Places group hosted an exclusive premiere of their film at Rochdale Pioneers Museum.  The event was attended by parents, friends and organisations who’d worked with the young people across the year. Those who attended the evening were inspired by the film, speeches and activities curated by the young people calling them a testament to the town and an inspiration to other young people.  

This Pioneer Places short film is available to watch via the media sharing site VIMEO :


We’re sure you’ll find it an uplifting watch.

Finally, thanks go to the Heritage Fund 

The Co-operative Heritage Trust would like to thank the Heritage Fund (formerly known as the National Heritage Lottery Fund) for providing the grant through their Young Roots programme to support this project.  The money has enabled the trust to engage young people in their local history and the Co-operative story and, best of all, created future ambassadors of the movement. The trust will continue to work with young people to develop the work it does and work towards embedding the opinion and interests of younger audiences in the future.