In Co-operative News’ Community Impact Index published in January, Chelmsford Star Co-operative Society was a strong performer, giving over 15% of its profits last year to charitable, community and co-operative causes. We look at the ways the society is making a difference.
Chelmsford Star is an Essex-based retail co-operative that operates 49 stores, including food, department stores, funeral and travel services. With an annual turnover approaching £100 million, it is one of the top co-operatives in the country.
It is also one of the most progressive, with its support for local communities. At the heart of this is an innovative scheme introduced in 1999 – the Community Card. Available to local charities and community groups, it enables them to earn points when they spend in stores. When the points are redeemed, Chelmsford Star adds another 50% in funding. Over 280 local groups have received support through the scheme, ranging from relatively modest amounts to £6,000 for the most active groups.
Chelmsford Star has run a ‘charity of the year’ programme since 2007. Since its launch, it has raised over £200,000 for local causes such as air ambulance, cancer support and dementia care. From raffles to fashion shows, charity fundraising has been a regular feature for customers, members and colleagues in its stores.
In a bid to extend its support in the local area, Chelmsford Star last year launched ‘The Only Way Is Local’ initiative. The initiative is a commitment to provide assistance and support to Essex food and drink producers, and stock them in store.
Explaining the reasons for the initiative, marketing & PR manager Vanessa Howard said: “Our commitment to supporting Essex producers means we can also contribute to the growth and stimulation of local commerce, making a positive impact on business growth, employment and prosperity.
“Our members and customers can be confident that when they buy local produce they are supporting the Essex economy and the people who live here.”
Chelmsford Star is also a supporter of co-ops at all levels. It provides financial – and wider – support to three co-operative schools and a credit union in Essex. It subscribes to and assists national organisations such as the Co-operative Loan Fund and Co-operatives UK. Internationally, it is working with the Co-operative College to support a new agricultural co-operative in Lesotho, southern Africa.
As a business running a retail operation in a difficult economy, Chelmsford Star puts an impressive amount of time and money into making a difference.