The Co-op Group is launching a series of initiatives to address the causes of crime in local communities.
At the Group’s AGM, members voted in favour of an advisory motion to maintain levels of investment in technology and security measures to keep colleagues safe.
The issue of store security was raised in a pre-conference morning session on the Group’s Members’ Council, where Group members criticised low staffing levels in stores, including one-on-one shifts.
Tanya Noon, who sits on the Members’ Council, said there were “very strong conversations” being made about the issue, and said colleagues have been given headsets so they can be in constant contact with each other.
Diana Lewis, a store manager from Tywyn, said: “Since those headsets have come in, my colleagues do feel more comfortable, we have instant communication, Challenge 25 is one area where a lot of colleagues feel unsafe. These headsets are the best investment for colleagues feeling safe.”
But members pointed out that customers could also be at risk from crime and did not have the benefit of headsets. Ms Noon warned against members of the public tackling any offenders in the Group’s stores.
“Our staff have been trained not to tackle shoplifters,” she said. “Their life is more valuable than a jar of coffee… we ask you not to do that.”
During the main conference session, Co-op Food CEO Jo Whitfied explained that data showed small stores were not the only ones at risk. To address the issue to Co-op aims to campaign and involve in community action. She added that training and gaining skills played a key role in making a long-term difference to people’s lives.
In December the Group published the Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities report, which shows the retailer has spent £70m since 2015 in an attempt to protect colleagues from violent incidents.
The Co-op spends around £9,000 per year in each of its 2,500 stores for security measures. High-risk stores received upgraded CCTV in 2018, with an additional £4.5m being spent on new headsets to improve service and security in stores.
“We need to tackle the root causes of crime as well, such as unemployment and drug abuse. Police forces across the country are stretched.”
The Co-op is also working with shop workers union USDAW and MPs on presenting evidence to government to understand the true scale of violent crimes faced by colleagues. Around 100 colleagues have recorded and submitted testimonies for the government enquiry for changes into law and judicial system.
The retailer is also launching a partnership with Steel Worriors, a charity which melts down knives confiscated by police and used the metal to make gym equipment. As part of the scheme, The Co-op will develop 20 free community gyms.
Another partnership with the Damilola Taylor Trust in East London will aim to prevent young people from falling into crime.
Named after Damilola Taylor, a ten-year-old schoolboy who was fatally stabbed in 2000. The Group will carry out a careers and skills development programme for the trust. Colleagues will also be fundraising in 80 stores across the country.
Richard Taylor MBE, father of Damilola and a driving force for the trust said at the Group’s AGM: “We have done a lot with the little resources we accessed. The challenges are still there because young people still carry knives and don’t value lives but we are working with them.”
“This issue is real – for many of our stores and communities across the country,” added Ms Whitfied. “It’s completely unacceptable that our colleagues have to come to work and face that.”