International Voices of the British Federation of Young Co-operators and the Woodcraft Folk: Past, Future and Present.



Picture: badge from the Co-operative Pioneers 


My research project looks at the ideals and goals of youth in the Co-operative movement.

The Co-operative movement took root in British life from the 1840s and led to the founding of many UK groups in the nineteenth-century and early 1900s. The latter groups chimed in with an international tide of socialist beliefs inspiring people from many places and different backgrounds. This is an important history that feeds into cultural and social events in the 1920s and 1930s, then later in the 1960s and could not be more resonant than at this present time when there is again increasing social unhappiness at the isolating social features of late capitalism.

The research specifically looks at two groups: the British Federation of Young Co-operators and the Woodcraft Folk. This will be framed by a consideration of their co-operative links with European and specific Commonwealth areas, through which the international ‘Past’, ‘Present’ and ‘Future’ of the co-operative youth movement takes shape. By focusing on the international dimension of the co-operative youth movement over history, the study aims to chart changing political and social landscapes and the global and interdisciplinary reach of the heritage sector.

  • ‘Past’ section – collections and archive research are used to trace the history of the co-operative youth community from the 1920s.
  • ‘Present’ section – works, conferences and meetings, material on youth business co-operatives, schools and UN youth statements are used to offer a view of the current position of the movement.
  • The ‘Past’ and ‘Present’ sections will be used to create a resource pamphlet/booklet and webpage as well as forming chapters of the thesis.
  • The ‘Future’ goals section – participatory-based youth surveys, workshops and reflections from centenary events and the 2020 International Camp hosted by the Woodcraft Folk.

Woodcraft folk badge



In the Heritage field the critic Shane Gould points out the problems of re-telling working-class history when he comments in 1999 that: “Within the realms of the ever-expanding heritage industry, working class interpretations of the past are either ignored or glamorized to the extent that they become meaningless” (Familiar Past?: 154). In this research project a ‘third’ critical approach will be followed between the binary of neglect by authorised heritage discourseand glamorisation by ‘subaltern’ heritage discourse(Smith, Uses, 2006). The cultural heritage of the co-operative movement will be looked at using both tangible (form and context) and intangible (ideological content) strands. Although, the last two decades have seen much work redressing overlooked areas of working-class history, there is still work to be done and this research project contributes to knowledge through a consideration of the overlooked and diverse history of Co-operative youth. It also offers an extension to such cultural considerations of power, identity and authority in the heritage of the co-operative movement.



The project is research and participatory-based and it is intended to provide a resource to those interested in the youth movement across changing cultural and social contexts in the international community and to generate discussion within the co-operative youth community regarding its past, present and future ideals and goals. This is to be expanded by initiatives, set up after the International Youth Camp in 2020 hosted by the Woodcraft Folk in the UK, which will establish links with groups and communities that share co-operative ethics but are not co-operative members. By sharing resources and learning with a wider community the question of ‘what voice the International Youth Co-operative movement wishes to present to the future’ can be re-imagined.

One impact of this study is its use of the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals: This offers a specific way to consider the future from the ‘counter-cultural’ position of co-operative discourse within society and its increasing exclusion over time as a force for social change. In the act of connecting heritage theory and practice with ideas of sustainable societies this research project considers wider social concerns that affect the future of local and global communities alike.



Vivienne Evans gained a BA in Literature and MA in Critical Theory from the University of Salford; and an MA in Twentieth-Century Literatures, Theories & Cultures from the University of Manchester. This was followed by research and publicationson social revolutionary ideas in international surrealist literature.She commenced her Heritage Consortium PhD research in 2017 with the University of Hull under the supervision of Dr. Gill Hughes, Department of Sociology & Social Sciences, and is co-supervised by Prof. Paul Ward, Department of History, University of Huddersfield and Dr. Cilla Ross, the Co-operative College, Manchester.