Why are co-ops working in communities?

One area of the impact index that has grown is the number of co-operatives reporting how many hours its staff volunteer for good causes. Business in the Community...

One area of the impact index that has grown is the number of co-operatives reporting how many hours its staff volunteer for good causes.

Business in the Community describes volunteer hours as a donation of time and skills during work hours to tackle local social issues. It says it is an effective and powerful way for businesses to invest in their people and local communities.

Six of the nine largest co-ops reported volunteer hours. In total, 115,610 hours were donated to communities last year. That means 92 minutes were dedicated for every co-op employee during the year. Or, looking at a typical working day, there were more than 440 members of staff working for the community.

Looking historically, this 92 minute per employee total has fallen from a high of 138 minutes in 2013/14. But this is simply because the averages have reduced as more co-operatives have reported volunteer hours, adding more employees into the mix. On a like-for-like basis comparing the four original co-operatives that reported figures in 2012-2013, the total number of minutes volunteered per employee would have increased to 122 minutes this year.

Organisation nameEmployeesTotal
volunteering time (hours)
Financial valueMinutes per employee (2015/16)
Co-operative Group69,98072,219£10,00,00062
Midcounties Co-operative8,69326,000£380,000179
Scotmid Co-operative4,4182,151n/a29
East of England Co-operative4,3092,460n/a34
Southern Co-operative4,2902,737£19,81638
Lincolnshire Co-operative2,86810,043£72,309210


*Average excluding data for Scotmid and East of England, for comparison with previous years

n/a: No information available. Does not necessarily denote lack of activity.

Michelle SmithAt the Co-operative Group, community lead Michelle Smith said that at a time of continuing austerity, the reason to invest in communities has never been clearer. 

“Communities are under more pressure than ever as their funding streams are reducing – they need our help to build capacity and their ability to support themselves. The need for us to play a part has never been more important. From a consumer perspective people are expecting companies to play their part as never before.

“Community investment is at the heart of our values and principles. Co-ops were originally established with a view to looking after and helping communities, it fundamentally goes to the heart of what’s different and why we believe being a co-op is a better way of doing business. Effectively, it’s why we exist.”

malcolm brownOver the last three years, Scotmid has raised over £1m for charity. Of that £370,000 was raised for Anthony Nolan to recruit thousands of life-saving stem cell donors. Scotmid’s head of corporate communications Malcolm Brown sums up the reasons why community investment is at the heart of the co-op movement. 

“We are living the legacy handed on to us from the Rochdale Pioneers, who started with one shop to help their community. We have been handed the baton and we are living their values and principles.

“We have installed defibrillators in our stores, and communities have been educated about their importance. Because our NHS, police, and education services are short of money they are looking to other avenues to how they supplement the money they get from local authorities. If somebody’s budget has been cut by government by 20% they ask how will they fill that gap and they look at organisations  like ours that can help them. Our measure is: ‘will this make an important impact and a difference?’ If the answer is yes, then that’s our return on investment.”

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