Bringing a youth perspective to a co-op board

We speak to Brad Tuckfield and Jody Meakin, who have recently joined the board at Central England Co-op

Central England Co-operative has recently elected two of its youngest ever directors. Brad Tuckfield, store manager at its Reepham store in Norfolk, and Jody Meakin, a marketing communications assistant at the society’s Business Support Centre in Lichfield, were elected as employee directors in October. 

Brad Tuckfield, 26

How does it feel to be one of Central England’s youngest ever directors? What do you want to bring to the role?

I am delighted to have been elected and am still learning the ropes. There’s a vast wealth of co-operative experience on our board and I feel honoured to be a part of that. It feels good that people have sufficient confidence in me.

Age is really only a number but I will show due respect to those with more experience. I think I bring youth and vitality to the board and a lot of energy. It is great that Jody was elected at the same time and we hope to bring fresh ideas. We are the generation that has grown up with computers, apps and complex technology and I think I can bring some good ideas on this. 

I am also passionate about supporting local food banks, educating the younger generation about the co-operative model by delivering workshops and using work experience opportunities in store to develop and give the younger generation a platform.

How did you get involved in co-operatives, and with Central England?

I started working for Central England around 10 years ago when I was 16 – it was my first job, but it feels more like a hobby than a job. Before being elected as a director I was on the Eastern Membership Community Council for a number of years where I became chair; seeing the difference that our stores were making in the community really inspired me. This encouraged me to look more into the wider movement.

Why is it important to have younger people represented on co-op boards? 

Firstly, to try to give a younger perspective on matters that arise and secondly, to encourage others to progress and develop themselves in becoming the next generation of co-operators. I feel very passionate about having a structure in place to support young members that want to be a part of a future board.

What co-op values appeal to young people? 

Co-operative values are ethical and young people today want to see a change in the way the world works. Equality is a key co-operative principle and seeing food banks and queues for food has really challenged young people to ask: ‘How can this be fair?’ Social justice is what is really important and is the reason the Rochdale Pioneers opened their Toad Lane store.

What can co-ops do better to attract and to serve young people? What is Central England doing?

At Central England, the board are all co-operators and have pledged to cut carbon emissions, to support foodbanks, tackle food injustice, embrace diversity and reduce the use of plastics. These are all wishes of the younger generation around the world.

Co-ops need to work with schools and show young people the difference working co-operatively can make to the world. They need to then be able to visit our modern stores with bike repair stations, water refill stations and phone charging points – especially in rural areas such as East Anglia, for example, where there are vast acres of farmland between towns and villages.

Related: How to drive youth social entrepreneurship

Jody Meakin, 36 

How does it feel to be one of Central England’s youngest ever directors? What do you want to bring to the role?

I believe that I have a lot to offer, in terms of understanding how the society works, promoting the fantastic work undertaken in the community – and voicing the feelings of a younger generation. Young people are not only our customers today but also our customers and members of tomorrow. We need to understand what services they need to grow our business in the right way. Never has a convenience store been so vital in local communities, with colleagues potentially being the only friendly face that some of our most vulnerable customers have seen for the long periods of lockdown.

How did you get involved in co-operatives, and with Central England?

I joined Central England 10 years ago working in the colleague restaurant at head office, then became a member relations admin assistant where I learned about membership engagement and co-operative ethics. At first, it was just a good local job – but with children, working for such a family-friendly employer was a game-changer. It became much, much more than just a job when I learned the history of the movement and our values and principles. 

Why is it important to have younger people represented on co-op boards? 

It is important to have some younger representation to give fresh, optimistic ideas – but that would not work without the vast experience of lifelong co-operators alongside. It’s a great blend.

Which co-op values appeal to young people? 

People understand the need to work together for common good and that co-operation promotes equity and equality. I think younger people also like the idea of co-ops co-operating with other co-ops for a better, fairer world. 

What can co-ops do better to attract and to serve young people? What is Central England doing?

I think concern for the environment is a big issues for younger people and Central England has made a number of commitments on this. The society is also upgrading community stores to have phone and iPad charging points, communal seating and a pleasant environment.

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