Nationwide commissioned this poem for a 2018 commercial. A building society is a mutual financial institution, a collection of mergers, and a provider of household savings and mortgages. Nationwide used ‘The Birth of the Building Society’ in an advertisement that aired on television and online, spreading a message of community and care to those watching.
Explore The Birth of the Building Society
‘The Birth of the Building Society’ by Stephen Morrison-Burke is about the origins and ethos of building societies.
The poem starts with the speaker describing how metalworkers created the first building society in coffee houses in Birmingham. There, they discussed their need for better housing and came up with a plan to pool their money and build everyone a new home. This ethos exists today, the poet implies. In the contemporary world, building societies are the same as they used to be. They still care about helping individuals.
You can listen to the full poem here.
Throughout ‘The Birth of the Building Society,’ Morrison-Burke engages with the theme of community. The poet explores the origins and intentions of the first building society. He suggests the purity of their intentions in 1775 and how to this day, it’s still their goal to help “everyday people.” The system, he says, exists for its members and is run by its members. This kind of community feels inherently positive. His poem appeals to readers’ need to feel taken care of and seen and therefore works to the advantage of the Nationwide Building Society for which it was composed.
Structure and Form
‘The Birth of the Building Society’ by Stephen Morrison-Burke is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. Due to this fact, it’s possible to consider this piece a sonnet. This is despite the lack of a rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Traditionally, sonnets conform either to the Petrarchan or Shakespearean form.
This poem is a contemporary variation. It does not use a rhyme scheme, nor does it use iambic pentameter. The lines vary in length from one word up to twelve. Readers might note the last two lines of the poem as an exception, though. The final two lines use the same end word, “people.” The poet may have made this choice to allude to the tradition of Shakespeare’s sonnet that always ended with a rhyming couplet.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Alliteration: seen through the use of the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “fast forward and free fall” in line eleven and “simple system” in line ten.
- Allusion: occurs when the poet suggests a connection but doesn’t fully explain it. For example, the poet alludes to the Nationwide Building Society through the second quatrain and into the final sestet.
- Repetition: seen through the use of the same words, ideas, phrases, or structures. In this case, in the last two lines, the poet concludes both lines with “everyday people,” an instance of an epistrophe.
Flashback and rewind to 1775,
to discuss the need for better housing.
In the first line of ‘The Birth of the Building Society,’ the speaker begins by taking the reader back to 1775 and the first building society, created in Birmingham, England. The speaker is trying to tell a working-class story, one that focuses on individuals and how the building society was created in order to attend to their most important needs. It was born in coffeehouses and within discussions between metalworkers who knew they needed better housing.
The simple language in these lines tells the story directly and clearly. Readers won’t find themselves weighed down by overly poetic language. Instead, the poet approached his subject directly. This is something that makes a great deal of sense when one considers the subject, as well as the fact that this piece was written for a commercial.
All agreed to throw guineas, shillings, and crowns into the common pool,
The very first Building Society;
In the second quatrain of ‘The Birth of the Building Society,’ the speaker goes on to describe what happened next. Each person decided to add their money to a “common pool.” From this pool, they would “build each person’s home.” The work didn’t stop until every house was built. This feeling of togetherness and working towards the common good is at the heart of the poem. The poet and Nationwide, the company for which he composed this piece, were interested in conveying these specific emotions. They wanted to make sure those watching at home could tell the difference between a bank and a building society.
no hidden agendas.
Just a simple system that existed solely for the benefit of its members.
are still helping everyday people.
The final lines clear up the building society’s ethos for those watching or listening. Nationwide, the poet implies, is not about greed. It’s about “helping everyday people.” The original building society “existed solely for the benefit of its members,” and the poet wants to draw a connection between this idealized image of the past and the company that exists today. It’s only a “modern-day sequel” that people see and experience today. Anyone listening to the poem, the poet and his commissioners hoped, would hear this poem and have a better idea of what Nationwide stands for and why they should support building societies.
The first building society began in 1775 with Richard Ketley. He sought to combine his members’ resources in order to purchase land and construct homes. The society was self-terminating. This meant that once the project was done, the society would dissolve.
The Nationwide Building Society began in 1846 in Wiltshire. Numerous mergers, including with Anglia Building Society in 1987 and the Portman Building Society in 2007, resulted in Nationwide, which grew larger than all other building societies in the UK.
Stephen Morrison-Burke is a boxer and poet. He was chosen as the Birmingham poet laureate in 2012. He was raised in Birmingham and awarded a fully-funded scholarship, and named Kit de Waal scholar.
The tone is celebratory and appreciative. The speaker spends the fourteen lines of the poem celebrating the history of building societies and what they do for everyday people to this day.
The speaker is someone who supports building societies and has an interest in their history. The poet wrote from the point of view of someone who believes that building societies are working toward the common good of all people.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The Birth of the Building Society’ by Stephen Morrison-Burke should also consider reading some similar poetry. For example:
- ‘Democracy’ by Langston Hughes – is a direct and powerful poem that asks the reader to reassess their ideas about freedom and democracy. Explore Langston Hughes poems.
- ‘Be Strong’ by Maltbie D. Babcock – describes a certain way of living in the world through which one faces down all their troubles bravely. Explore more Maltbie D. Babcock poems.
- ‘Mowing’ by Robert Frost – about the importance of hard work. Frost uses his skill with natural imagery to depict the peace found in simplicity. Discover more Robert Frost poems.