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History of the Barrhead Co-operative Society Ltd.
Chapter X. The Educational Department

Early Educative Action—Formation of Education Fund—Reading-Rooms —Lectures-—New Committee—Women’s Guild—Mechanics’ Library— General Work of Education Committee.

“The sovereignty of man lieth in knowledge.”

IN these days we have grown so familiar with the work of the educational committee—its lectures, entertainments, distribution of literature, penny savings bank, women’s guild, junior choir, gala-day, excursions, and other activities—that it is difficult to believe that the Society had been in existence for' a quarter of a century before a separate educational committee was appointed. It would be wrong, of course, to assume that until the committee was elected no educational work was done. In point of fact there had been no period of the Society’s life at which educational matters were altogether neglected, although a number of years had to elapse before funds were expressly put aside for that purpose. The decision to devote a certain proportion of the profits to education was arrived at in the end of 1868; but, in spite of the fact that they had no distinct fund to draw upon, the directors yet found ways and means of doing various things of an educative

Top Row’— MrS WILLIAMS (.V). Mrs FARRELL, President (.V), Miss CUTHBERTSON, Secretary (A ), airs RENFREW (.V), Miss MORRISON, Treasurer (iV). Centre Ron-— Mrs Miller (), Mrs LAWSON (5), Mrs Miller (B), Mrs Nicol (}, Mrs Buchanan (fi), Mrs Hawthorn {.). Front Rowv— Mrs CAMPBELL (/?(, Miss SHAW, Secretary (B), Mrs GOLDIE, President (B), Mrs ARMSTRONG (B\. Mrs SPROULL, Treasurer (B). Mrs Dykes (B\, Miss m‘Donald (,V). *V.—Neilston Guild. B.—Barrhead Guild.

character. Thus members of committee were regularly supplied with copies of the Scottish Co-operator (cost halfpenny per month), and at intervals a free distribution of the little paper was made to the members. There were also a few lectures, with long intervals between, the speakers being principally Messrs Paton, M'innes, Borrowman, and Allan.


In the twenty-seventh quarterly report (February 1868), the directors give expression to a desire for the provision of funds for educational objects. “ We hope,” they say, “ that every member will endeavour to have the Society organised and consolidated upon the true principles of co-operation, and see that it is conducted not only to increase the material advantages, but also with a view to enlarge our intellectual capacity. The best way to accomplish the latter would be to have an education fund, which it is hoped our Society will not be much longer without.” Nine months later, the first allocation as a separate item for the education fund (5, 18s. 6d.) appears in the quarterly report, but the administration remained in the hands of the board until 1885, when an educational committee was first elected by the members.


The first definite purpose to which the educational fund was applied was the provision of a reading-room for the use of members and their families. In October 1870, the chairman, Mr John Allan, drew attention to this fact, and expressed the hope that the supply of newspapers and magazines provided would be well used. He also suggested that the major portion of the time spent in the reading-room should be devoted to the discussion of all subjects bearing directly or indirectly upon the moral, social, and intellectual elevation of the workers. In July 1873 a similar reading-room was opened in Neilston, and in this case the list of papers and magazines with which it was furnished is given as follows:—Co-operative News, Good Words, Chambers’s Journal, Daily Mail, Daily Herald, Evening Citizen, Glasgow Reformer, and Renfrewshire Independent.


No lectures would appear to have been given for some time after the formation of the fund, the first that are noted being in 1872 when “ one of the auditors ”— afterwards referred to as Mr Robert Craig—gave a series of three lectures on “ Thfc Balance-sheet and Co-operative Bookkeeping.” These lectures were given in the old Mission Hall, which was situated in the little lane leading down to the gasworks from Main Street—a lane and buildings which have entirely disappeared in the course of modern improvements, A year or two later the board appears to have felt the management of the education department, in addition to its own proper work, to have been too heavy for it, and it began a system of electing a separate committee, partly from its own membership and partly co-opted from members who were thought likely to prove useful in this sphere.


Both Barrhead and Neilston reading-rooms were seemingly very popular to begin with; but in the course of a few years this popularity, for some reason, declined, and in 1879 they were given up and the stock of books, games, and furniture was sold by auction.


Dissatisfaction with the board’s management of the education fund, and with that of the special committees which it elected at intervals, was frequently expressed at the general meetings, and in 1881, and again in 1883, motions were brought forward for the formation of a distinct committee to superintend this work. On each of these occasions the motion was defeated, and it was not until 1885 that the members agreed to the proposal. The following members constituted the first educational committee elected under this new arrangement:—Messrs Robert Campbell, Gavin Mackinlay, Alexander Gowans, John Martin, and Andrew Landels (convener). Almost from its formation this committee initiated a programme which has been followed with slight alterations by all the committees succeeding it. A series of popular lectures by popular and prominent speakers was provided ; papers on various topics were read to smaller gatherings by members and others, and a singing class and junior choir started. The committee also undertook the better distribution of the co-operative newspapers and other literature, and when the penny savings bank was commenced, in 1891, it was immediately put under the control of the educational committee. Amongst the more prominent public men who lectured for the committee in these earlier years we note the following names:— James Keir Hardie, M.P., E. O. Greening, Tom Mann, Ben Tillett, Fred Maddison, James Deans, Henry Murphy, and Councillor Shaw Maxwell.


In January 1900 the committee widened its sphere by the formation of the women’s guild. There are now two branches of the guild—one in Barrhead and one in Neilston—and they form useful and interesting adjuncts to the general work of the committee. The guild has a strongly educative influence by bringing the women of the Society into closer touch with the workings and the spirit of the co-operative movement. Sewing and dress-cutting classes have also, from time to time, been arranged, so that the guild meetings serve at once the double purpose of providing some of that social intercourse from which women are too much excluded, and of increasing the members’ capacity for performing their household duties. At various times the guild members have come forward and have given useful assistance, as when they worked so whole-heartedly on behalf of the bazaars in aid of the funds for the Convalescent Homes, and again when they sewed and knitted garments for the comfort of our soldiers at the front during the South African war.


In the beginning of 1902 the education committee did an excellent service to the community by saving the library of the old Mechanics’ Institute from the dispersion which then threatened it. The Mechanics’ Library was one of the oldest of Barrhead institutions. It had been established in 1825, and, as was pointed out in our second chapter, was one of the earliest organisations of the kind in the country. Its books and lectures had long served a useful purpose, but it was doomed at last to lose its popularity, and to see its period of usefulness pass away. For some years its managers carried it on at a loss and in the face of a disheartening public disregard. This could not go on indefinitely, and at last the sale of the Library was proposed. In a final effort to keep the books together, the late Mr James Maxton (headmaster of Grahamston School) and others appealed to the co-operative society to pay the outstanding debts of the Institute, and to take possession of the Library. The education committee was favourably disposed to the suggestion, and reported accordingly to the members, who, in March 190a, sanctioned the payment of 20 for the purpose proposed. A considerable number 5f the old books thus taken over were only so much lumber, and had to be got rid of ; but many of them were standard works, in good condition, and a few of the volumes were of distinct value. On the whole, it may be said that the Society made a very good bargain. At various times since 190a additions have been made to the library, which now comprises fully 3,000 volumes in all. There can be no doubt that if the members gave this department more generous support, the committee would be encouraged to add still more freely to the books at its command. The annual subscription is one shilling, and the library is open every Monday evening.


At the present time the education committee continues to work along the lines we have indicated. It is responsible for the distribution of the co-operative newspapers and co-operative literature. It superintends the work of the women's guilds, and co-operates with the committees of the guild for various purposes. It controls the penny savings bank, arranges the annual children’s gala-day, provides lectures, concerts, and entertainments during the winter months, and organises the members’ summer excursions in the years when these are decided upon. It runs singing classes and a junior choir, and in many ways undertakes work that is very necessary for such a movement as ours, but the management of which would be inconvenient if added to the duties of the board of directors. Of late years the purely educative side of the work, as represented by lectures, has tended to become obscured and to give place to a larger proportion of entertainments; but no doubt the committee, in pursuing this policy, is not so much following- its own wishes as providing the members with what they want and are willing to pay for.


WITH the completion of this sketch of the work of the education committee we conclude our review pf the progress and development of Barrhead Co-operative Society during its half-century of life and labour. It is a long cry from 1861 to 1911, and much that was entirely unforeseen by those forerunners of ours has happened in the intervening period. There can be no doubt that many of their dreams have not come to realisation ; but, on the other hand, much that they had never even conceived of has been accomplished. And so will it be in the future if we, their successors, are but as true to our standards and as faithful to our duties as they were true and faithful to theirs. Precisely what the future holds no man can foresee, but the co-operative idea has still within it immense unrealised possibilities, which it is our part to discover and to shape; not binding ourselves merely to the opinions and to the deeds of the past, but toiling to satisfy the changing needs of the present, and stretching our thoughts forward to the awakening and ever-widening life of the future. And our memories will be cherished, and our graves on the hillside be green and honoured, if our sons of 1961 can say of us in that day, as we to-day join in saying of these our fathers : " They also entered into labour, and left the world better than they found it.”

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