Central Co-op marks International Women’s Day with Women’s Voices event

The day featured a range of speeches and sessions showcasing the co-op’s work in various areas

“This is our day to enjoy so please do”, Jane Avery, a board member of Central Co-op, told members and colleagues attending the society’s Women’s Voices event on 6 March.

Held ahead of International Women’s Day (8 March), the event took place at Central Co-op’s new headquarters in Lichfield.

Central Co-op CEO Debbie Robinson

“We’re in a safe space where we can share stories and inspire each other,” said CEO Debbie Robinson.

The day featured a range of speeches and sessions showcasing the co-op’s work in various areas, from promoting diversity, equity and inclusion to tackling poverty or navigating digital spaces.

Sharon Manboard-Jones from West Midlands Police

Participants also heard from Sharon Manboard-Jones from West Midlands Police who described the Offender to Rehab scheme, which supports prolific retail offenders in addiction embark on a recovery journey.

Praising Central Co-op for being “a driving force in terms of fundraising”, she revealed that the 35 individuals assessed as part of the scheme had between them stolen goods worth £78,000 a week. The scheme identifies clients via crime statistics, partner agencies and retailer intelligence following which it assesses their needs, and provides treatment and ongoing support, aftercare, employment education and housing.

Related: ICA Gender Equality Committee releases International Women’s Day statement

Around 30% of these people have continued to be abstinent post-release from residential rehab. WMP is seeking commitment from the retail community and working with the local authorities to expand the programme.

In another session, Stella Creasy, Labour/Co-op MP for Walthamstow, encouraged participants to campaign to address some of the issues affecting women across the UK, from gender and pension pay gaps to gender-based violence and a lack of representation in politics.

Stella Creasy delivering her speech at the event

“Our kids are living in a world where Andrew Tate is seen as a hero,” she said, adding that “yet” was the most powerful tool any campaigner could use when it comes to equality.

“In a country that is unequal, that injustice affects all of us.

“It isn’t for women to fix why there aren’t women in Parliament … it isn’t for women from black and ethnic minorities to tell us why we’re not doing more to get that diversity, it’s for all of us to recognise that we’re missing out on a world we could get – that ‘yet’.”

Central Co-op runs an inclusion delivery group made up of colleagues from across the society which has produced engagement guides to help expand understanding and knowledge within the workforce. The group also examines DEI data, which is collected anonymously.

The society will be launching inclusion networks and is currently looking for colleagues to lead them.

The event also featured visits to local landmarks Lichfield Cathedral – the only medieval cathedral in the United Kingdom with three spires and Stowe Pool, a reservoir offering views across to the Church of St Chad, a Grade II Listed Building.

Bex Johnston performing at the event

The day ended with an instrumental playback session led by expression artist Bex Johnston.