Although there were no fanfares when the doors opened at a grocery store in Ponton Street, Edinburgh, 160 years ago, it marked an important moment: the start of a co-operative preåsence in the Scottish retail landscape.
Scotmid Co-op began life as St Cuthbert’s Co-operative Association in July 1859, when 12 Edinburgh workmen met in Grove Street with a vision to improve their own lives and the lives of others by co-operating for the greater good.
At the time, Edinburgh was a city of great deprivation and hardship, and St Cuthbert’s threw a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of people living there. A century later, St Cuthbert’s had become an integral part of Edinburgh life – merging with neighbouring societies and growing in importance. St Cuthbert’s farms and bakeries provided the bread and milk that fed the city, while its department stores sold everything from school shoes to three-piece suites.
Scotmid can lay claim to opening Scotland’s first-ever supermarket at Leven Street in Edinburgh in 1959. And in 1965 the society’s transport department received the prestigious Royal Warrant for Coach Painting.
It merged with Dalziel Co-operative in January 1981 to become Scotmid – but throughout the past 16 decades, its core purpose has stayed the same: to serve communities and to improve people’s everyday lives.
To celebrate the landmark birthday, Scotmid ran a series of events during the anniversary week, with each store encouraged to raise £160 for the society’s charity partner of the year, Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland. Each store also got the opportunity to present their Community Heroes with a small gift to say thanks for playing a key role in the local area.
And on St Andrew’s Day (30 November) the society launched a special tartan produced in conjunction with Perthshire-based House of Edgar. The tartan incorporates the Scotmid blue.
“Commissioning a tartan, a national symbol of Scottish heritage, seems a fitting way to mark our anniversary and celebrate the important role Scotmid has played in Scottish communities over the past 160 years,” said Scotmid president, Harry Cairney.
“My first ever job when I left school was with St Cuthbert’s, so I never thought in my wildest dreams that one day I would be president of the society,” he added. “I’ve been involved with Scotmid for 43 years and, although plenty has changed in the world during that time, one factor has remained constant – our values and principles.
“It’s a real honour. [It] provides me with a great sense of satisfaction that our core purpose has been a constant for all that time.”
Chief executive John Brodie, who has been in post since 2005, added: “We’re incredibly proud of the fact we’ve been a part of the local landscape for the past 160 years and the role that we’ve played in serving communities and improving people’s everyday lives.
“It is pleasing to think that we operate with the same values and principles as the pioneers agreed back in 1859.”
1859 St Cuthbert’s opens
In July 1859, 12 men met with the purpose of forming a co-operative society; the first shop opened on 4 November 1859 in Edinburgh. It had 63 members and capital of just over £30
1864 A landmark year
Married women were permitted to join as members, member numbers reached 275, and profits meant expansion with a new store and bakery in 1865
20 new stores were opened during this time, and the co-operative expanded into new businesses, including drapery, butchery, crockery, pharmacy and furniture
1900-1913 Financial success
St Cuthbert’s amalgamated with other co-ops and by 1909 had become the largest co-op in Scotland with the highest sales of any UK co-op. It began a laundry service in 1912, and purchased the 1,000 acre Cliftonhall Estate to start a farming operation in 1913
1942-44 A very famous employee
In 1944, Sean Connery (aged 13) started work as a barrow worker in the St Cuthbert’s dairy on 21 shillings a week. In 1942, St Cuthbert’s had its first female president, Margaret Bain
1959-65 100 years on
In its centenary year St Cuthbert’s opened Scotland’s first supermarket on Leven Street. In 1965, its transport department received the Royal Warrant for Coach Painting
1981 A new society and a new name
St Cuthbert’s merged with the Dalziel Society in 1981. The name was changed to the Scottish Midlands (‘Scotmid’) Co-operative Society to reflect its larger geographic area
1985 Horse-drawn milk deliveries end
In 1985, Scotmid made the last horse-drawn milk deliveries in the UK. The same year saw Scotmid stores introduce automatic till scanners, bar codes and printed till receipts
1995 Semichem is acquired
The chain flourished; by 1999, Semichem was operating 80 health and beauty stores, followed by another 27 in Northern Ireland after the acquisition of the Options chain
2003-04 Scotmid buys Morning, Noon and Night
During 2003 and 2004, Scotmid underwent a rapid period of growth, purchasing eight stores from the Co-operative Group and nine Spar stores. In 2004, it acquired Dundee-based convenience store chain Morning Noon & Night, in a move described at the time as “one of the most significant retail deals in Scotland”. This increased Scotmid’s stores to 120, widening the geographical spread and taking the total workforce to over 4,000. The same year, Scotmid bought the Motherwell funeral firm, Dundas Fyfe
2005-09 150th birthday celebrations
After being based at Fountainbridge for 125 years, Scotmid moved its head office to a purpose-built head office in Newbridge. It won the Scottish Grocer’s Social Responsibility Award in 2008 and 2009. In 2009 it also opened the Academy, an award-winning training facility to develop staff. The same year, Scotmid’s members agreed to a constitutional review to modernise the governance structure, creating new regional committees for the East and West of Scotland
2012-2013 Convenience and England expansion
In 2012 Scotmid opened its first premium convenience store in Warrender Park, Edinburgh, and extended its business into northern England, merging with Penrith Co-operative in 2013 to create Lakes & Dales co-operative
2019-20 The future
In 2019, Scotmid adopted a new brand identity, which incorporates the Co-operative Marque developed by the International Co-operative Alliance. Today Scotmid has 350 retail outlets employing 5,000 staff across Scotmid, Semichem, Lakes & Dales co-operative, funeral branches, post offices and its property department
For more on Scotmid’s past, visit scotmid.coop/about-us/our-history/