Open Eye: There's nothing odd about 200 years of self-help

With names like the Nottingham Ancient Imperial Order of Oddfellows, the Hebrew Order of Druids and the Grand Ancient Order of the Sons of Jacob, they sound like something from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. But for more than 200 years, Friendly Societies have been central to the lives of millions of people.

They have provided health insurance and provision, death benefits, visitors to the sick and bereaved, feasts, processions, charitable work, loans to members and civic bodies, business activities and educational services.

Now, as the government is committed to welfare reform and there is demutualisation and new regulation in financial and welfare services, the societies' 6,000,000 members have been placed at the centre of the government's Third Way strategy.

Recognising that current debates about the relative roles of families, charities, the state and the market in welfare reform, need to be put in their historical and social context, the Open University, in conjunction with friendly societies, has initiated a network of researchers.

The Friendly Societies Research Group will carry out a survey of societies' records, collate information about research, and encourage contact between societies, museums, archives and scholars.

It will also use the unique national and local structure of the OU in order to support and collate comparable, small-scale, research. It aims to explain why prudence, self-help and conviviality became so popular in the nineteenth century and why they have had less appeal in the recent past.

Consisting of business executives, academics and archivists, the new group will also raise awareness of the importance of the societies' records and encourage good practice in museums, archives and societies' offices.

Launching the initiative, Dr Dan Weinbren of the Faculty of Social Sciences, who is chair of the Friendly Societies Research Group, noted some of the gaps in the literature and the need for reappraisal:

"Each generation needs to examine the past afresh, because the way in which we see the past changes as our perspective alters. Explanations of the connections between events in the past help us to understand the culture and society we inhabit."

Friendly societies originated in medieval trade guilds and enjoyed a period of rapid growth in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

One theory is that, after migrating to the new urban factories and leaving behind their extended family and rural support networks, workers used surplus money to provide mutual aid through friendly societies.

Legislation may have aided the societies' growth, through regulation, through the bar on trade union activity and, after 1834, the much-feared prospect of old age and death in the Poor House followed by dissection by students under the Anatomy Act.

There are many other competing theories about friendly societies. Some have argued that they promoted fraternity (most were men-only) and the class system, at the expense of kinship, parochial or workplace ties.

Others have stressed the societies' democratic traditions and links to radicalism. Some were encouraged by brewers, others were temperance organisations. Some were run by employers, gentry and clerics; others by radicals opposed to the church and the political and economic order.

The main aim of the Philanthropic Order of True Ivorites was to "preserve the Welsh language in its purity". The William IV Society excluded all Irish, while the Irish National Foresters was open only to men who were Irish by birth or descent.

Some thrived in areas of industrial development, others in declining areas. Larger societies boomed while some smaller ones existed long after the time when, according to economic logic, they should have disappeared.

Competition from commercial insurance and leisure organisations, and financial difficulties as the membership aged and sought better medical provision, led to difficulties by the 1890s. However, legislation in 1911 confirmed friendly societies as an integral part of the delivery of welfare and membership grew.

Despite the adverse affects of two world wars and the welfare legislation of 1948, friendly societies continued. The benefits of their stress on reciprocity and the importance of having members rather than clients have supported them to this day.

Societies have provided a vital means of increasing members' security. Ensuring the survival and study of their records will illuminate many aspects of voluntary association, including national pride, masculinity and family financial decision-making processes.

The Open University may be starting a research programme for students interested in researching friendly societies. Details available from Dan Weinbren, Open University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, MK7 6AA.

d.weinbren@open.ac.uk

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

English Teacher- Manchester

£19200 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Are you a ...

Day In a Page

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes