Ms Lidbetter said: “We collaborate with our community because that’s what we’re all about. If we can help we do, but if you want community development, you’ve got to be in the community.”
While Ms Lidbetter acknowledged that it wasn’t always about providing financial assistance — advice, expertise and a steer in the right direction were often more important — she said her society had helped fund many thousand community good causes since the co-op decided eight years ago that it needed to do more to help its members and their families.
She announced that an additional £500,000 fund had been put together to assist community groups and projects as the society gears up to celebrate its 150th birthday later this year and although she insisted profit wasn’t Lincolnshire’s motive or motivation, she said the net result of their huge community involvement was to increase trade and drive up profits.
“Of course profit is important; it’s the engine that allows us to really go places, but we’re here to benefit the community, not the other way round,” declared Ms Lidbetter. “We have 195,000 members so if we help community groups, we’re serving our members at the same time. We’re the invisible glue that binds it all together. People now talk to me about our social purpose and often describe Lincolnshire Co-operative not as a business, but as a community organisation.”
Ms Lidbetter said she has been inspired by the passion and zeal of the founders of Lincoln Co-op 150 years ago who started the society not to generate profits or seek returns on their capital, but because they wanted to make a difference. “Whatever members needed, the society found a way to provide it and the same ethos applies today,” said Ms Lidbetter. “Some of the services we deliver ourselves; for some, we work with others and some we just support financially because they are good thing, such as lunch clubs, Dial-a-Ride or the YMCA.
“So who do we decide to collaborate with?” asked Ms Lidbetter. “The answer is anybody with fire in their bellies who wants to work with others to do some good, whether they are trying to provide a service or right an injustice.
“I say: ‘Co-operation? You know it when you see it — regardless of the structure or the name.’ All our co-ops were founded because of the desperate need for trust, fairness and integrity. Yet there’s a whole generation who thinks of the Co-op as just another supermarket. That demonstrates the scale of the task the Movement faces.”
• For further details of Lincolnshire Co-operative’s community involvement go to: www.lincolnshire.coop.