Reproduced with permission from Anthony Murray, the innovative and open editor of the Co-operative News, to inform Birmingham readers who appreciated John’s service to the city and its people.

John is now membership and party support officer at the Co-operative Party

john boyleWhat does your role involve?

I lead the Party’s membership and Party Support team, providing day-to-day support and advice. Queries range from branch organisation concerns about delivering the Co-operative Party message to members who want a ruling or would like to share and promote an activity. I write the party officers support mailing and, with my team, develop member-recruitment strategies and communications. I also answer general queries on the wider co-operative movement.

How do you get started in the morning?

By slowly waking up to Radio Five Live. I make a flask of Revolver Co-operative coffee then catch the train from Stafford to London at 7.40am. The journey takes two hours, so most days I am able to do some work on the train.

What did you used to think of co-operatives, before you started working for one?

I already thought co-ops were cool and was a member of the Co-operative Party and several local societies – I have great co-operators Kath Paterson and Jack Kemp to thank for that. In particular, I had seen how valuable members were to the success of co-operatives.

What do you think of co-operatives now?

I am as passionate and excited about the value of co-operation today as I was when I joined the Party 20-odd years ago. In particular, I love the way the movement is constantly changing, evolving and diversifying – and yet still sticking to co-operative values and principles, which are essentially the greatest set of rules for any community or organisation.

What motivates you throughout the day?

The members and the co-op movement. Our members are brilliant – they give up their time for free to promote co-operative solutions to today’s problems across the country from Plymouth to Perth. Our members’ involvement keeps me on my toes and inspires me every day.

What does the co-operative difference mean to you and your team?

A better way of living for all the community. Unfortunately, in many circles it is still seen as an alternative to the mainstream. But it is not an alternative; it is the proper, effective and successful way to run a business or a service. Co-operatives offer a tangible solution to the problems of today, just as they have done since the 18th century.

What inspires you in your profession?

The people. Membership practitioners such as Sue Letts and Peter Couchman; volunteer members such as Richard Bickle and Mary Lockhart directors such as Elaine Dean, Jean Nunn-Price and Jenny De-Villiers; co-op entrepreneurs such as Vivian Woodell. The commitment, creativity and passion of the people I meet every day never ceases to inspire me. I like co-oppy people.

If you could form a never-tried-before co-operative tomorrow what would it be?

A proper co-operative nursing home, where the members are the residents and staff. Member-residents sell their houses and place the capital in the home, nursing care is provided free by NHS, and personal care by staff. The interest off the capital and the members’ income pay for the care and services, while those with no income or from rented housing receive benefits (as they do in private homes). When a member moves out or passes away their capital (less fees) is recovered and given to heirs, and a new member puts their capital in. Staff “capital” is their labour. All members have a say in the running of the home.

How do you wind down?

Reading books on Cornwall, history and co-op history, shouting at Sunderland AFC and cracking very poor jokes.





Cadbury Brothers moved their factory from Bridge Street in Birmingham to a country location, in order to improve the quality of life of their employees and other incomers. Families in the new town, Bournville, had houses with yards, gardens, and fresh air – improvements in living conditions which enhanced public health.

bournville js 1To this day, the town offers affordable housing. Figures published in 1915 show that the general death rate and infant mortality for Bournville was significantly lower than that for Birmingham as a whole, over a five-year period. Bournville Junior School (entrance left) was founded by factory owner George Cadbury in 1906 and built with pride, to provide high quality education which was forward looking and tolerant.

Training and employment opportunities multiplied as the factory site became a series of ‘factories within a factory’; everything needed for the business was produced on site. This policy continued until well after the second World War, when – deplored in hindsight – it was considered advisable to use specialised ‘outside’ suppliers.

dumfries  work in progress

In 2007, another philanthropist mobilised a consortium of charities and heritage bodies to buy Dumfries House near a former coal-mining town with 16% unemployment, which according to Strathclyde University, “suffers from social deprivation and widespread degradation of the built environment and associated infrastructure”.

dumfries traineeDumfries House is now employing and training many young people who come from families with three generations of unemployed. They usually progress from apprenticeships to full-time employment.

An engineering centre is being created to revive skills in an industry considered vital to the country, counteracting the prevailing view in education that engineering is dirty and manufacturing ‘dead and gone’.

An outdoors centre, a cookery school, mill, woodyard, cookshop, training allotments and vegetable patches for gardeners have been created – a comprehensive business, social and environmental approach designed to kick-start regeneration in impoverished East Ayrshire, where mining communities once flourished.

dumfries allotments


BIRMINGHAM’S WATER PALACE: Steve Beauchampé: 1pm on July 21st

Moseley Road Baths history cover

Steve Beauchampé, the author of Pool of Memories – A History of Moseley Road Baths, will present this talk at the Birmingham and Midland Institute.

If you have a Sat Nav, enter the postcode ‘B3 3BS’ (or B3 2BJ for the nearest parking location). The Birmingham and Midland Institute is located on Margaret Street, Birmingham: 0121 236 3591. Free to members, £1 to visitors.

There may still be a chance to join the ‘terracotta army’ of swimmers in Moseley Road on Sunday 20th July and further the ongoing project ,”The Swimmers”, commissioned by Some City. Read more here.


erc header

The Economic Research Council focusses on the Labour market statistics quoted during the latest Prime Minister’s Questions.

 erc pay chart

 The blue line, measured against the left hand axis in millions of people, shows the total number of people aged 16 and over in employment over the preceding three months. The red line, measured against the right hand axis in pounds, shows the average weekly earnings (reported monthly) adjusted for inflation (so they are in today’s prices), excluding bonuses and arrears.

The prime minister said that we have reached an important milestone, with more people in work than ever before in our history. ERC continues:

“The Conservatives rightly pointed out that employment levels were at new record levels. Not only that, but the number of people in employment grew faster in the last year than in any other 12 month period since at least 1992. The unemployment rate is down to 6.5%, closer to the pre-crisis levels of 2007/8, and while underemployment remains a problem, there is some suggestion that it may be declining as well.

“Labour continued to draw attention to the fact that in real terms, average earnings are declining, and have been doing so now for over five years. Real pay has declined to the point where today, average weekly earnings are equivalent to the level of pay received in September 2003.

“This doesn’t take into account the inflation figures for June, when CPI rose to 1.9%, which is only going to make the situation worse . . .”




some cities logo

“The Swimmers” is an ongoing project commissioned by Some City. Based in Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, the Some Cities initiative is supported by Arts Council England, the University of Birmingham, mac Birmingham and Birmingham City Council. 

A photograph with 100 Swimmers in the Gala Pool at Moseley Road Baths will be taken by Attilio Fiumarella, an Italian photographer based in Birmingham and Porto, Portugal. He studied at Porto School of Architecture and combines the photography of Architecture with investigations about current issues.

Attilio Fiumarella Terracotta Swimmers Appeal Poster

After several years of decline, one of the two swimming pools in Moseley Road Baths has been refurbished, restoring its old lustre, but the Council intends to close the Baths permanently in 2015. This body of work aims to outline the loss of this valuable heritage and also to strengthen the relationship between the pool and its people.

first mile logo

As noted on this site some time ago, the Priory Rooms conference centre in Bull Street has a strong commitment to environmental sustainability.

Priory Rooms atrium & walls insulated

Great importance is placed on eco-conscious and sustainable business practices and last year received First Mile’s Silver Award for exceptional efforts. This year the Priory Rooms set the bar higher, aiming for a Gold Award, through a food waste recycling initiative. first mile recycling chart

The latest development is that all their food waste is now being collected by First Mile Recycling to be decomposed at a local site: their first food recycling contract in Birmingham.

First Mile representative George Garrett made the venue their first customer in Birmingham to have food waste collections. The waste is decomposed and then recycled for use in electricity and fertiliser.

The Priory Rooms now recycle an incredible 70% of all waste! Other companies could learn more about this through the First Mile Recycling website

first mile map

First Mile Recycling: 70 Warwick St, Birmingham B12 0NL




bfoe biophilic cities

In April Birmingham was the first British city invited to join a global network of “biophilic cities” – urban centres celebrated for their green credentials, their open spaces and their links to nature.

But in May, it decided to cover Park Street Gardens and Digbeth community garden with concrete!

Beyond this sad looking wall in Shaw’s Passage behind Birmingham Friends of the Earth’s warehouse, was an area which had been fenced off and forgotten by the council. It became overgrown and strewn with litter.

bfoe wall and fence

In 1998 a small band of volunteers decided to tidy up the site and held a party there to celebrate BFOE’s 21st anniversary.

bfoe header

They were granted access by the council and have used the space ever since as a composting area for the kitchen and café, a bike storage area for users of the building, a nesting site for birds in the heart of the city centre and a social space.

Digbeth Community Garden

However, campaigner Robert Pass writes: “We became inspired by the dream of creating a true Community Garden in the heart of the concrete jungle. A space for local people to grow food, to learn about sustainable crafts and skills, to socialise and to commune with nature: Digbeth Community Garden was born!”

bfoe volunteers2

A small band of volunteers organised regular Saturday workdays to tackle the overgrown buddleia, which was blocking light and crowding out other plants and pathways. In the middle of the garden there was a stand of self-set silver birch, (which are perhaps 15 years old), whitebeam, hazel, hawthorn and cherry laurel, which provides a rich habitat for invertebrates.

bfoe pallets raised beds

The disused industrial site was already polluted with traces of lead, arsenic, copper and zinc, so the volunteers used some of the pallets lying around and created raised beds for growing food on donated topsoil – the contamination challenge became a design feature.

bfoe salvaging bricksPaths were made using donated slabs and gravel while a patio for the social area was constructed out of the huge pile of bricks (left) recovered from the original Victorian warehouse – almost all of the materials used in the garden are salvaged or recycled.

But in May 2014, just as volunteers were beginning work on a pond and wetland area, they were notified by a local resident that the council was preparing to sell the land and planning permission was being drawn up to build a car park.

Robert continues: “Our first thought was, just what Digbeth needs; more car parks! Our second thought was disbelief and shock . . .”.

Birmingham Friends of the Earth calls on friends and supporters to consider voicing objections to this sale, writing to the council leader, Sir Albert Bore or Councillor Lisa Trickett, (Cabinet Member for Green, Smart and Sustainable City) or to the local paper.


free parks people coverFollowing the recent focus on the HS2 depot threat to Park Street Gardens, we received an informative passage from Free Parks for the People, A History of , 1844-1974, by Carl Chinn, Brewin Books 2012, Chapter 7, The Duty to Do Good: Recreation Grounds:

“In 1878, legislation empowered the Corporation to take over the town’s disused churchyard and burial-grounds and to convert them into public gardens or recreation grounds, subject to the consent of the Bishop of Worcester and of the clergy of the respective parishes.

“The first of these to be dealt with was the burial ground in Park Street that belonged to St. Martin’s Parish. Dent declaimed its condition ‘which had long been a scandal to the town, its walls broken, gravestones thrown down and destroyed, and the ground itself a wilderness covered with brick-ends and unsightly refuse of every description’.

park street gardens 3

“The ground was divided by Fazeley Street and taken over by the Corporation in 1879. It was ‘tastefully laid out with flower-beds, shrubs, and walks’, and these Park Street Gardens were opened to the public by the Mayor, Richard Chamberlain, on June 25, 1880”.

Will Allison Street Gardens, a few hundred yards away, be turned into a car park?


Why has America’s National Academy of Sciences focussed so much research on Facebook?

nas header

NAS, established by an Act of Congress, signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology.

robert shrimsleyIn 2011 Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times had mild issues with Google . . .

But three years later – after Facebook’s senior executive, Sheryl Sandberg, apologises for conducting secret psychological tests on nearly 700,000 users in 2012 . . .

Read on here.



myriam head onlyA reader sent news of Myriam Francois-Cerrah; described as a Franco-Euro-British writer and journalist, Myriam currently works as a freelance, with her articles featured in many outlets, including the Guardian, Huffington Post and New Statesman. She is no casual observer – currently a post-graduate researcher (DPhil) at Oxford University, focussing on Islamic movements in Morocco, following an MA in Arab Studies (Honours), specialising in Middle East politics.

In June, after making a film on the subject which was discussed on a BBC Daily Politics Show, she pointed out that the parents and governors in the so-called Trojan Horse controversy in Birmingham schools were “simply old-fashioned social conservatives”, not extremists. The video may be seen here:

myriam daily politicsAndrew Neil, Myriam Francois-Cerrah and Toby Young

She set out her views in a New Statesman article

As teachers know, there are ‘problems’ in all schools – and Myriam Francois-Cerrah agrees that those at the centre of the so-called “Trojan horse” debacle are no exception. As we noted earlier, segregation of the sexes is a feature of the most expensive private schools.

Myriam has spoken at length with various members of the community in Birmingham, and finds “there are undeniable concerns among certain – yes, including Muslim – students and parents pertaining to a narrow interpretation of Islam being enforced within some schools. There are also allegations of mismanagement, nepotism and of the misuse of funds. The detail of these issues is likely to emerge in upcoming reports . . . I have no interest in defending some of the practices reported in these schools. I think music and drama should remain on the curriculum. I think trips abroad cannot implicitly exclude any students. And I think vetting speakers who address children is essential”.

An expansion of the flawed counter-terrorism agenda

myriam brennan center justice ny logoShe moves on to stress that the problem is not an issue of radicalisation, alleging that such a linkage reflects an expansion of the flawed counter-terrorism agenda, which assumes that socially conservative views can represent the first step on a broader path to terrorism. In fact, studies suggest that a strong religious identity is an important bulwark against the risk of radicalisation. Rethinking Radicalization, a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, finds that empirical studies largely debunk the claim that religiosity is linked to a propensity for terrorism. It also warns of the alienating effect of the ‘interplay between the “religious conveyor belt” model and coun­terterrorism policy’.

A ‘stigmatising view of Muslim identity

After deploring Michael Gove’s use of ‘dehumanising imagery’ in his criticism of Charles Farr, a senior government counter-terrorism official for refusing to “drain the swamp“ of extremists, aka crocodiles – a ‘stigmatising view of Muslim identity’ – she addresses the assumption that socially conservative views can represent the first step on a broader path to terrorism:

“The profile of the 7/7 bombers, politically radicalised by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but otherwise not particularly devout, alleged to have been smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol – suggests a far more complex understanding of radicalisation is required . . . Ultimately the journey to terrorism is a complex one which cannot be easily situated on a neat continuum”.

In pressing for a crackdown on nonviolent, as well as violent, “extremists”, Gove has adopted a strategy which is in danger of encompassing entire communities, “alienating and stigmatising whole sections of society in the process”.

Ms Francois-Cerrah concludes:

“The actions of zealous governors, who advocate a socially conservative view of Islam in their schools, are no threat to national security . . .The real tragedy is the damage done to community relations, to trust and to the willingness of Muslims to engage in a system which seemingly paints the participation of the devout as a part of a stealth takeover.

“After years of telling Muslims to engage in public institutions, the damage caused by the government’s hawkish mis-characterisation of this issue will reverberate in years to come”.





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