David Smith, Co-ops and Mutuals Wales writes:
I am always struck by comments along the lines of Co-op development or Co-op education being what others do; so I thought it useful to share an extract from a book about Hilda Smith, my mother, ‘Red Roses from Burnley to Buckingham Palace’ I am co-authoring which is due out later this year. This may provide an understanding of my passion for Co-op Education at Co-ops and Mutuals Wales and our work in supporting other co-operators http://www.cooperatives-wales.coop
It was not until I became really involved in Co-operative education through learning from Hilda that the full realisation of what the Co-operative Women’s Guild had done in this field hit me. Long before the famous Swedish co-operative movement’s group involvement, long before the significant ABCA system of Army education in World War II which led to a Labour Government in 1945, the Guild had a practical system of education by doing.
In the structure of the Guild one went from local Guild to district, district to section, section to national executive. But at district level you became a speaker. You were provided with Guild notes and in order to understand your subject you yourself were learning at the same time as you were teaching. This had a snowballing effect because more and more women who just attended the Guild lectures by the district speaker, in turn became district speakers.
The kind of subjects were very often before their time. Long before the Abortion Act of 1967, long before family planning became legal and respectable, the Women’s Guild were teaching these matters to their own peer group.
With the establishment of the Co-operative Women’s Guild branches from 1873/4, working women were gathered together and become more articulate in addressing questions that interested them. Certainly, no middle class women could speak with anything like the knowledge and the conviction of which those at the sharp end had to endure for so long. The Guild provided an excellent platform, outside the control of men, collecting local views and information in order to campaign about a whole range of issues of importance to women and their children.
The Guild was very fortunate in having a leadership very much in advance of their time. The pioneering work of Lady Ackland and Mrs Lawrenson led finally to its formation, and like so many pioneering ventures, such as the Woodcraft Folk, it was at Woolwich and the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society that the birth took place. Sadly, the Guild, with such a proud history no longer exists, but the lessons are there for us to learn about how we all can contribute to growing a Co-operative Wales.