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Out Of The Box

The origins of the Scottish Co-operative Movement

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An account of the birth of the Co-operative movement in Scotland from the mid-eighteenth century to the present. This promotional and patriotic film was made during the Second World War and tells the story of the Scottish Co-operative movement through scenes of historical reenactment. The story begins nearly 200 years ago. The old ways were overturned by new inventions. Shots of the "Spinning Jenny" being invented. Introduction to the Fenwick Weavers, the 'box' of the title and how they helped each other by mutual aid. Dramatised scene of Alexander Campbell, chief advocator of co-operation in Scotland explaining the ideals behind the movement. Shots of co-operative agreements all over Scotland.
In 1867 Campbell suggests to Glasgow Co-operative Society that the committee should establish a wholesale warehouse in the city to supply co-operative shops in West of Scotland. In 1868 the first Scottish Co-operative (Wholesale) Society is launched at 15 Madeira Court, Glasgow.
Shots of centre at Morrison Street, Glasgow. General shots of the Shieldhall factories in Glasgow. Shots of battlefields during the first World War. A man dictates a letter to secretary outlining the benefits of the co-operative movement in Scotland as opposed to privately-owned shops. Shots of grain being loaded onto ships. Bomb-damaged buildings around Morrison Street during World War II. Narrator states that "general co-operation is the only way we'll win this war. Foundation of the SCWS - 1868 Capital £5,744.
The SCWS in 1941 - Capital £13,373,000 - Annual retail trade £50,000,000

Questions & Activities


  • What was a spinning jenny?
  • How many pennies were there in shilling?
  • Why was the box introduced?
  • How are the Scots characterised in this film?
  • Why was this film made at this particular time?


History: Research the Fenwick Weavers using the Co-operative Education Trust Scotland website.

History (Britain 1880s-present) / Higher History (Trade Unions; Emergence of Democracy) / Financial Education / Business Studies / Fair Trade / Enterprise / Citizenship : Research the history of credit unions, cooperative societies and ethical banking'. Look into the need for these type of organisations, how they function and why they might have been seen as particularly important during the Second World War period.

Standard Grade History (1830s-1930s) / Modern Studies / Politics: Using this and other films relating to National Insurance. Using the many films in this collection, research the various welfare reforms from 1880 to the present day and the move from self-help to state help. Using the archive footage produce your own documentary (or moving image essay) on the subject.

History (Home Front): It could be argued that this is a well masked propaganda film. List the different types of values promoted in society during times of war (then and now).

History (Britain 1880s-present) : Investigate what has happened to the cooperative movement since WWII. What impact did the welfare state have on the movement and how has it changed. Look into areas like fair trade, ethical banking.

Modern Studies: In the wake of the banking scandals of 2007-2008, research and debate the role of ethical banking in the modern world. Would it make the world a better or worse place?

Enterprise / Financial Education: Invent your own currency, raise funds and run your own bank or credit union within the school.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-000-002-101-C
Resource Rights Holder By kind permission of The Co-operative Group Limited
Project Ref 0672
Date 1942
Genre Documentary, Promotional
School Subject History, Modern Studies
Subject Matter World War 2, Home Front, Enterprise, Financial Education, Citizenship, Business
Who Gordon McLeod (Actor), Hay Petrie (Actor), Merton Park Productions (Production Company), Terrance Egan Bishop (Director)
Where Fenwick, Glasgow
Event Co-operative Movement, Industry, Industrial Relations, Working Life
Attributes Black and White, Sound
Clip Length 10:04
Film Length 11:00