How are co-ops working in communities?

Case study: Setting up the sustainability plan The Southern Co-operative recently launched a new community programme – Love Your Neighbourhood – which links to their three sustainability priorities: Share,...

Case study: Setting up the sustainability plan

The Southern Co-operative recently launched a new community programme – Love Your Neighbourhood – which links to their three sustainability priorities: Share, Protect and Support. Jessica Hughes, community investment manager, explains…

Southern’s Love Your Neighbourhood programme focuses on four types of community investment – local funding, local fundraising partnerships, the donation of goods and staff volunteering.

The programme is the result of extensive research – we took the time to reflect on our historical approach to community investment, looking at what worked well and what could be improved. We also looked at societal and community needs across our operating area and considered which issues were most material to our business.

More than 4,500 members, colleagues and partners were surveyed, and we held a series of consultation forums with colleagues at all levels of the business. Business in the Community carried out the surveys on our behalf, to give us an independent view and to challenge our thinking. They then provided recommendations based on their findings.

We engage with other co-operatives when we’re developing policies – discussing broad themes and sharing best practise. However, we each have very different trading footprints, in terms of geography and business functions, so our investment programmes have to meet different needs.

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The Love Your Neighbourhood programme has already seen sucesses

At The Southern Co-operative, we have always supported a range of issues and initiatives, both at a local and a regional level. What we have now done is focus on those areas that are of most importance to our local communities. This enables everyone in the business to channel our energies where they are most effective, and hopefully provide a more meaningful impact for all.

Our local programme, Love Your Neighbourhood, is all about building community resilience. It’s centred around creating greener, safer, healthier, more inclusive communities. This is supplemented with more strategic activity linked to our key business objectives, such as strengthening the local economy, and education.

Love Your Neighbourhood is still in its infancy, but we are already seeing successes.  Colleagues, customers and members are engaging and there is an ever increasing number of local charities being selected as fundraising partners for their local store.

We also have four regional campaign partners. Our activities with them are starting to have an impact on issues such as reducing community violence, engaging young people in nature and changing attitudes towards disabilities.

Most large businesses now see the importance of community investment, but I believe co-operatives take this a step further. We believe that we have a purpose beyond profit. The Southern Co-operative is a ‘constant’ in many people’s lives, having operated for more than 143 years, and we take this responsibility very seriously. Community investment is simply how we do business. We aim to consider community impacts in our decision making, and we seek community based solutions to business needs, driving mutual benefits for all.

Case study: Dementia-friendly retail at East of England

Over 87% of East of England’s colleagues have voluntarily completed dementia training to date, and the society is now offering training to other businesses and community groups
Over 87% of East of England’s colleagues have voluntarily completed dementia training to date, and the society is now offering training to other businesses and community groups

Minnie Moll, joint chief executive at East of England Co-operative on how the society is making things easier for people living – and caring for those – with dementia.

As a community retailer it’s important that we support local people to retain their independence and feel part of their community for as long as possible, and that our colleagues feel able to provide them with support and assistance when they need it.

In our region alone over 50,000 people are living with dementia, a figure that is set to rise considerably by 2030, so in 2014, we made a pledge to become the leading Dementia Friendly Retailer in Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

To be a true dementia friendly business we needed every colleague across the business to connect with our vision rationally and emotionally. Our primary objective was to provide our colleagues with the knowledge and skills that would make them feel more confident and able to support their customers.

Working with experts in the field of dementia, such as the Alzheimer’s Society, Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance and University of Suffolk, we created four bespoke training programmes for our colleagues. To enhance their learning experience we included case studies gathered from our colleagues and customers who are affected by dementia.

Over 87% of our 4,500 colleagues have voluntarily completed the training to date and are registered dementia friends. We’ve received fantastic feedback from our colleagues who’ve benefited from the training both at work and home, as well as relatives and carers of customers living with dementia who have seen a change in the way our colleagues approach them.

In true co-operative spirit, we’re now offering our e-learning and face-to-face training to other businesses and community groups, encouraging them to take their first steps to becoming dementia friendly.

We’ve also made a commitment to provide more support for colleagues as carers, and are looking at ways to adapt the physical environment of our stores to make it easier for people living with dementia, their carers and families to continue to shop with us.

Case study: Strategic community investment at Central England

Maria Lee, president of Central England
Maria Lee, president of Central England

Putting community at the heart of business policy.

Central England Co-operative was named Leading Co-operative of the Year in June, partly due to its work with local communities.

President Maria Lee said: “Supporting good causes, local groups and community events across Central England remains at the heart of what we do as a co-operative business. We updated our Membership and Community Strategy at the start of 2016 to help grow our engagement and impact in this key area.”

A joint working group, comprising Board members, representatives from the Membership & Community Councils, and senior managers, develops and oversees the strategy.

Central England’s commitment to the community is also embedded in the society’s wider Corporate Responsibility Policy. The policy adheres to BITC’s CR Index framework, which sets out four broad management areas: Community, Environment, Marketplace and Workplace. Within the Community section, Central England focuses on four key issues: remove barriers to work; focus on deprived communities; social equity & cohesion; engage with the NEET’s (16–24-year-olds Not in Education, Employment or Training) agenda.

“As part of our Corporate Responsibility strategy, we launched a colleague volunteering scheme to enable all employees to participate in up to three volunteering days per year,” said Martyn Cheatle, chief executive.

Central England’s Community Dividend sees the society give back 1% of trading profit in community grants. The scheme has been running for six years and so far donated more than £1m. Other initiatives include fundraising with long-term charity partners, which colleagues help to choose. The society’s partnership with the Newlife Foundation for Disabled Children has been running for four years, and has raised more than £1.2m. Central England’s SENse to Aspire scheme aims to help remove barriers to work for students with special educational needs by supporting them to gain the skills they need to find employment. The scheme includes workshops and in-store work experience.

The society is committed to working with the wider co-operative movement and takes part in initiatives such as the Big Co-op Clean.

Martyn Cheatle said: “As an inclusive and progressive society our vision is to be the UK’s best co-operative by making a real difference to our members and communities.”

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