Now I'll share my understanding of the start of the building society movement. This may be a myth (since I heard it from a woman who heard it from a man, who…), but it fits with what I want to say so I'm going with it!
There once was a group of working men in a pub or an inn, which has got to be in Birmingham, because it is known to be the birthplace of building societies. These men were meeting to relax from the stresses of work and venting about their living conditions while lamenting on never being able to buy a house of their own. Since the inn was their 'regular', the innkeeper was repeatedly subjected to their concerns, as bartenders and hairdressers are the original agony aunts and uncles.
The innkeeper listened and the men were clear about their issues. After some time and reflection a bright idea surfaced in how to create change. What if they could pool their resources, organise into a club or… society, and put aside a little money each week? That way, over a few years, they could save enough capital to purchase land and build a house for each member.
The strategy and membership was set and once deposits started, no new members could join. Each time the kitty reached the amount needed to purchase a house, lots were drawn so one member would get their house. The members would continue to pay into the society until all members were on the housing ladder. At this point the society would have dissolved or could start-up again with new members.
That is the origin story of building societies, as I know it. It may not be the exact truth in the details, but it does illuminate some of the values that still exist today in both Nationwide and in community organising. Values like people putting their finances together to achieve something they couldn't do individually, developing a collective strength. The sharing of stories, of personal truths and concerns until a solution to the problem is developed locally. These are also ingredients needed in telling a community organising story.
As this blog evolves, I plan to share bits of the framework that underpins community organising and look at bits of Nationwide's long history, to reflect the connections and share how these practices work on the ground. I am hoping to be informative and entertaining. I hope you come along and read about my adventure bringing these two worlds together. Wish me luck!
Next episode, Episode 1. An introduction to the community organising framework, with a focus on 'Listening'.