As a small retail co-operative, the 13-store Radstock Society is even closer to its community and has to prove its worth.
It has been the centre of the community since 1868 and its head office is based in the town centre superstore, which has received a £1.2m makeover this year. The supermarket, which has a comprehensive food and non-food offering, has benefited from a revamp of the format and the installation of new energy-efficient lighting, freezers and chiller units. To improve access, the society also runs a free bus service for customers who live in nearby villages.
In one of its many community initiatives, chief executive Don Morris is in discussion with the local council to save the town’s library from closure and relocate it into the store. The store has also over the years extended its Post Office services.
The society aims to act as an anchor for the town centre. In other areas of the retail estate, Radstock saved a post office from closure by taking ownership of a store in Frome. And after years of serving the local community in Coleford, the co-operative purchased the store from its retiring owners to develop and extend the offering, ensuring a continuation of the village shop.
It also supports a number of charities, including the First Radstock Scouts Group and Working in Support of Holidays for the Disabled (WISH). In partnership with a local school, Radstock is about to launch a community card, too. Under this scheme, when parents and teachers use their card at the store in Street village, 1% of what they spend goes to the school.
The society has also divested property assets to support community housing developments. It recently signed a deal with social housing landlord CURO, which purchased two of the society’s sites to build affordable homes for local residents.
With 380 employees and 7,500 members, Radstock has gone from strength to strength. “We’ve expanded as a business to create employment opportunities for local people,” explained Mr Morris. Although attracting new members has been a great challenge in recent years, more than 350 joined the society last year. “It has been a key strategy of ours to diversify the business,” he added. “We felt we needed to spread our wings geographically.”
Involved in the movement for more than 22 years, Mr Morris began his co-operative journey in 1992, when he undertook an industrial placement at Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society (now Southern Co-operative). In 2008, he was appointed as Radstock Co-operative’s chief financial officer, and became the chief executive of the business a year later.
“I was struck by the ownership model, the democratic structure and the fact that members could directly elect the board of directors using the one member one vote principle,” he said.
Although the retail sector is a very competitive one, Mr Morris believes co-ops have a strong selling point – and says by demonstrating how well they link with local people, co-ops can show that they are a different type of organisation that is part of the community.