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 …
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Publication information: Article title: Open Eye: There's Nothing Odd about 200 Years of Self-Help. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: June 1, 1999. Page number: 7. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.