Covid-19 updates: 26 March

Here’s some of today’s news from co-ops and their response to the Covid-19 crisis


The Co-op Group has today introduced new measures to enforce social distancing in stores, in a bid to protect customers and colleagues.

New measures across its 2,600 stores include floor markers which will define a one metre distance throughout the store, in front of kiosks and two-metre spacing for customer queues.

It will also aim to limit the number of customers in the store at any one time as well as reducing the number of tills open, to allow greater distance between customers.

Chief operating officer Chris Whitfield said: “The safety and wellbeing of our colleagues is our priority and we fully support the need for social distancing. We have introduced a number of measures in store, which will be reviewed on a daily basis, and we thank our customers for their understanding and support.

“We are immensely proud of our frontline colleagues and the work they are doing at this unprecedented time to serve our customers, members and local communities but we urge our customers to follow the Government advice to only shop for essential items and to be considerate of others when they are shopping.”

Co-op stores will also have reduced opening hours which will give colleagues time to re-stock and is encouraging contactless shopping where possible to reduce the handling of cash and speed up checkout with minimal contact.

The retailer has also taken immediate steps to help front-line colleagues follow all precautions advised by NHS and PHE and have built in additional working hours for store colleagues to undertake more frequent hand washing throughout the day. Additional hand sanitiser, antibacterial wipes and soap have been provided to all stores and they are all following upweighted, rigorous cleaning protocols of the store and all fixtures.

Midcounties Co-op has tweeted:

“Delighted that following the school closures @phonecoop was so quickly able to provide @CoopAcademies with 40 handsets so their school leaders could keep in touch with their most vulnerable pupils with special educational needs, a lifeline to normality during social isolation.”

And it’s not just the big established co-ops. One of the most recent additions to the co-op family – Co-operation Town, a growing network of food co-ops being set up around the UK with the assistance of Radical Routes, is doing its bit to get food to those who need it.

On its Facebook page, organisers said: “Over the last couple of days we distributed over 800 meals to vulnerable people in Camden, Islington and Haringey.

We did this with the amazing support of The Felix Project and a handful of local organisers and volunteers. We sourced, stored, packed and delivered nutritious food to where it was most needed, we collaborated with disability, homelessness and refugees support organisations, we had a whole online distribution system built for us (for free!) by comrades overnight and we had an incredible crew of Mutual Aiders who delivered food around on foot, by bike and by car. We devised an entire operation built on trust, not transaction.

“We did all this with no support from the council or the government, without asking for permission or depending on any centrally authorised system. We proved that, when the state fails us, we will organise ourselves and our communities, collectivise resources and take direct action to care for each other. We intend to do this every week.”

Alongside practical support, co-op organisations are also putting out advice on health and wellbeing – crucially important as the population endures the stresses of a global pandemic crisis and life in lockdown.

Glasgow food co-op Greencity Wholefoods – which is continuing deliveries to customers using safe social distancing measures – has issued healthy eating advice to boost immune systems.

“Now more than ever, it is important to educate ourselves on the ways in which we can support our immune system long-term,” writes Greencity’s Tess Davis. “By aiding your body’s own natural ability to defend itself against pathogens, you will not only have resistance to colds and flus but to other infectious illnesses.”

And Co-operatives UK has published some advice on self-care “to strengthen your co-operative spirit”.

“There’s no right or wrong way to process the information and it’s understandable if you’re feeling vulnerable or overwhelmed,” it says. “It’s important to acknowledge how you are feeling.

“As we work to help those around us at this time, it can be easy to lose sight of how the changes are impacting on us. Take time to remind yourself to look after your physical and mental health.”

The pandemic is a historic, world-changing event and co-ops are being urged to do their bit to record it. The Co-operative Heritage Trust is calling on co-ops to preserve any material used during the pandemic so it can create a resource for future scholars.

Co-op bookstores News From Nowhere in Liverpool and October Books in Southampton have already signalled their intention to continue mail order trade. Now Glossop’s George Street Community Books has followed suit.

Plunkett Foundation, which represents UK community businesses, has written an open letter to the groceries industry and urged them to take action to ensure supplies to rural community shops are maintained.

Chief executive James Allcock wrote: “During this time we have seen community shops showing extraordinary resolve, inventiveness and commitment to provide vital and varied services for the people who most need them. So it has been with great alarm that I have learned from our rural community shop members throughout the UK that they are concerned about being disadvantaged in terms of fair supply distribution.

“In my appeal to the groceries industry I have implored decision makers to ensure that their supply chains are maintained, and the flow of essential groceries and goods are reaching those most in need.

“At a time when so many elderly – or local residents with underlying health issues – are forced to self-isolate, unnecessary travel to larger supermarkets for supplies will put lives at risk.”

Mr Allcock says special measures for community shops should include:

  • reduced minimum orders,
  • priority deliveries to rural and more isolated community shops,
  • smaller, more frequent deliveries,
  • implementation of rules in cash and carry stores to prevent panic buying and unfair distribution of stock.



Union Coop, the largest consumer co-op in the UAE has announced that of its branches will operate 24×7, with exceptions of Al Mamzar, Al Mizhar Mini Coop, Coop the Pointe, Al Satwa and International City.

Union Coop’s director of happiness and marketing, Dr. Suhail Al Bastaki in a statement said: “Union Coop branches will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, starting from Thursday, 26 March to ensure that the goods are provided to the community smoothly, in response to the directives of the concerned authorities in order to overcome the pandemic.”


Here’s a tweet from Canada’s Co-operative Housing Federation, another example of Principal Seven, concern for community

Also in Canada, leisure outdoor retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op has closed all its stores, although it is still operating its mail order service and giving advice on how to safely enjoy the outdoors while social distancing. Similar measures have been taken in the USA by outdoor retail co-op REI.

And sector apex body Coops Canada has called on co-ops to help the country meet the need for medical supplies.