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Diary: 'I want to reclaim "honour"'

Two recent deaths spur our Leeds-based cooperator to reflect on the importance of weaving the memories of lost friends and comrades into our movements

In the last three months, I have been to two funerals for Radical Routes activists, both in their early 50s.

Radical Routes (RR) is a network of co-operatives and for the last few years, Sean was a big presence at almost every quarterly gathering and a driving force in Catfish housing co-op, who just bought their first house in Huddersfield a few months ago.

Dave, on the other hand, a founding member of Zion Housing Co-op (aka Nutclough HC) in Hebden Bridge in 2001, hadn’t been involved or been to a gathering for years, having left Nutclough in 2009. Although he still actively promoted radical co-operation and was keen to keep up with RR news, he was busy elsewhere.

I’ve been in RR a long time and, for me, they both felt like losses to the Radical Routes extended family – both helped make RR what it is today, both influenced its development and culture. But most people currently in Radical Routes have never heard of Dave.

The entity that is Radical Routes is only 30-odd years old – younger than punk.

There aren’t many people even from the early days who are over 60.

However, there is not a single co-op still in it which was a member when my co-op joined in 1995, so hardly anyone currently involved knows (or cares) who the founders were.

Furthermore, turnover of people within member co-ops is huge – in my own co-op, there are only two of us who’ve been around more than 10 years. Radical Routes is an institution with barely any social memory.

This makes me sad – I don’t want to replicate the beyond-humanness of modern society with an institutional identity based on policy documents, rather than human stories.

I want story-telling, heroic poetry and art, celebrating our friends and forebears, who worked not just for themselves, but for us and future generations of co-operators.

We have housing and work because of activists who created new legal structures, who wrote books about how to do it, who set up our mutual aid network and our investment structure that gets us the cash to do it.*

We have homes because of the many wonderful people who started housing co-ops, often with months or years of hard work and tough living conditions.**

More than that, some of us have lost friends and comrades and we want them to be remembered and to be honoured. Well I do – I want to reclaim ‘honour’ as a desirable quality and bestow it on those we have lost.

If we are creating communities that are alternatives to the nuclear family, it follows that we must allow ourselves space and time to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of our members and weave them into our family history for future generations to be proud of (hopefully).

Clearly, I now think this because I’m older, I’ve lost friends, I get nostalgic and sentimental.

No doubt I have a fear of being forgotten myself.

I didn’t think like this 20 or 25 years ago. Young people mostly don’t. But now I also understand a need for sharing and remembering and for collective recognition of the emotional and practical trauma of loss.

I think the lack of this is a symptom of our not really being a community.

In Radical Routes, we make our own little communities, but they are strange, mono-generational communities, often without elders and often without children, reflecting society in its current atomised state. And we’re not very good at knowing each other’s communities very well.

Fairly commonly, we want to re-make our communities in our own image, erasing the past, rather than learning about it and learning from it.

I recognise that this polemic is simplistic, emotional, demanding and unrealistic in a context where time is always stretched too far, where there is constant competition for our attention and where we continue to bring new people, usually young, idealistic strangers, into our strange little communities, re-creating our culture with each change of personnel.

So I don’t have an answer. I just have a little plan for a big book, a book of remembrance, thanks and love – for Dave, for Sean. And for Xen (The Burrow). And Linda (Cicely). And Rosie (Nutclough)….

*And people are still doing it!
** And people are still doing that too!

Cath is a Leeds-based co-operator and communitarian, with a great deal of gratitude for those who went before.