Elaine Dean who is the current Vice President of Central England Co-op (amongst many other Co-op leadership roles) was interviewed by Rebecca Harvey from Co-op Press and Sarah Alldred from Co-op College about her life as a co-operator. I wrote about the event for Central England Co-op. It was great to hear from Elaine directly about her experiences in the co-op movement. Well over 30 people tuned into the zoom event.
Elaine’s Coop Roots
Elaine started by telling us about her upbringing. She was taught about the Co-op from a young age because her father worked in a Co-op store. Due to her Co-op links she became involved in the Co-op tennis club. Her family were very keen on her getting an education, which wasn’t always the case when Elaine was growing up. Her family took her to museums and encouraged her to learn and develop a political identity. Elaine became a teacher with the help of two influential women. The first teacher helped her discover Shakespeare, when Elaine was about eleven years old. The other teacher was a Jewish Lecturer whose entire family had perished in Auschwitz, who saw potential in Elaine and offered Elaine free extra tuition.
Her formal involvement in the Co-op movement began when she was a teacher. In Derby there were problems with the Co-op and Elaine decided to take it upon herself to stand for the board. Women on boards were rare then. Elaine defied some fierce opponents and successfully became elected. She was one of only two women where there were about 15 men on the board at the time. This was just the start of a long and illustrious Co-op career. Elaine openly faced hostility from others who did not believe that she belonged at the head table.
Later on Elaine told us about some of the influential female role models that she had, who included Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and, Jacqui Forster and Hillary Clinton. All were women who stood up to patriarchy and changed their respective fields.
Q and A
At the end of the interview we had a Q and A session where Elaine answered questions about her thoughts on the Co-op movement. She told us that this was the best time for women in leadership positions in the Co-op movement. More women can access positions of authority than when Elaine first became involved in the Co-op movement. Elaine mentioned that an 18 year old woman has been elected to the board of Co-ops UK. She also told us that significant barriers still exist, such as childcare and lingering sexism, which still exists within society.
Finally, Elaine told us that the things that she’d take on a desert island with her. Elaine was already given a copy of Shakespeare and the Bible. To complement this reading, she would also take a copy of the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, a sun lounger and of course Paolo Maldini!
A collective co-op thank you to Elaine
It was a pleasure to listen to Elaine talk about her immense career in the Co-op movement. She was a true trail blazer. As a younger Co-operator it’s important for people like me to learn about how people like Elaine were able to fight against patriarchy to help create a fairer society for those that followed. It’s important to have role models who show you what is possible. Young women can look at what Elaine has achieved and know that they themselves can achieve what they want in the Co-op movement. I am not a woman, but I am on a couple of the same leadership teams as Elaine and she is a mentor to me. It can be confusing and daunting when you first join boards and committees, but Elaine has helped me a great deal in learning the nuances of what I need to know. Everyone who attended the interview appreciated what Elaine has achieved. Many of them will have shared co-op experiences with her.
This piece was originally for the Central England Co-op Membership Matters blog. Check out the blog if you’d like to find out more about Central England Co-op’s community activities.