Film review: The Rochdale Pioneers


Reviewer: Peter Pen

Directors: Adam Lee Hamilton & John Montengrande

If I ever needed to spend 57 minutes being entertained you could do a lot worse than watch this superb short covering the story of the creation of what was to become The Co-operative Society. The year is 1844 and the weavers in Rochdale; against the backdrop of previously failed initiatives; are taking on the established inscrutable retailers and wholesalers who don’t give fair weight for goods and in some instances adulterated food, adding chalk and shavings to flour and charging sky high prices to already impoverished people.

This period is only 25 years after the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester and really, the pioneers are asking a lot from a community, previously engaged in similar but as yet unsuccessful ventures, and jaded by a lack of positive change. Thankfully their resolve held in the face of doubting colleagues and things had to be done when the highlight of a man’s day was a piece of “not best” bacon”.

Such a short film is particularly powerful as it is from these somewhat humble and unassuming beginnings that an estimated 1.4 million individual co-operative enterprises sprang, globally securing the livelihoods of over three billion people.

I mentioned the film to a business acquaintance the following day and he sat in front of me wearing one of the biggest smiles and informed me that his father (who is 92) had been a weaver and was employed on the set of The Rochdale Pioneer to set up a weaving machine, unfortunately when the family sat around to watch it the other night he had been edited out. This review therefore goes out to you Jim Finch. Happy Days.