Q&A: Nick Crofts

President of the Co-op Group’s National Members’ Council

How was 2020 for the Co-op Group and the National Members’ Council in particular?

2020’s obviously been a very different year and despite not knowing when we’ll see each other again, Council has rallied together to continue being a voice for our members when they’ve needed us most. In the face of immense challenge, Co-op rose to the occasion and adapted quickly so we could feed the nation and look after our communities. Covid-19 has shone a light on the injustices people are facing but it’s also shown that life can change very quickly for anyone, so it’s important that we all stick together and co-operate for a fairer world. We’ve supported people through the worst of this crisis and we’re very well-placed to keep this momentum going. I’m looking forward to seeing where we can make a difference next. 

How did the NMC support its members (and each other) during Covid-19 and lockdown?

We’ve all been holding regular constituency meetings over Teams and Zoom to check in with each other, agree questions for the Co-op Group Board and discuss local issues affecting our members. We also recently ran our first online social quiz – it was great fun and let us have a laugh together in our teams whilst testing our co-operative and general knowledge!

The pandemic and lockdown gave us the opportunity to try new things when it comes to connecting with our members. In autumn, we’d normally host Join in Live events around the UK but for 2020, we took our events online for the first time over four dates in October. This meant that members and co-operators could join us from the comfort of their own homes to help shape future plans, chat with Council Members about what matters most to them and find out how they can get more from Co-op Membership; we’ve had lots of brilliant feedback and are already thinking about what we can do next year, so watch this space!

In our communities, some of us have been volunteering with local causes to get food and essentials out to those who need it most during this difficult and uncertain time. We’ve also been getting involved with raising awareness and funds for charity campaigns. Co-op’s partnered with Mind, SAMH and Inspire to support communities with mental wellbeing, so our Council Colleague Members have been hosting sponsored events and letting members and customers know that help is there if they need it. Those of us on social media also donned some yellow socks in October to show young people that even when they feel lonely, they’re not alone, as part of the Co-op Foundation’s #LonelyNotAlone campaign to tackle youth loneliness.

What were the key challenges you faced and how did you address them?

As a Council of 100 Co-op Members and colleagues from around the UK, we’re used to meeting face-to-face six times a year in Manchester, but this hasn’t been possible since February.  When we meet, we hear updates from around the business, hold members of our Board to account and discuss key issues – all crucial elements of our roles. To keep us connected to Co-op, we started hosting virtual Council meetings on Teams and met for the tenth time since May on 8 December. Our committees and working groups have all continued to meet online or over the phone too, inputting into key pieces of work and plans from around the business. Although meeting virtually has taken a bit of getting used to, it’s helped us become a more inclusive Council – introducing new ways to stay in touch and helping those who can’t always make it to Manchester get involved. 

What were the key issues you campaigned for?

For Co-op’s 2020 AGM, Council put forward a motion as a call for the business to accelerate its actions in the fight against climate change. Through crowdsourcing on social media, Kat Rose, Yorkshire & the Humber, was able to build members’ input into the motion. This has continued to be a focus for us, and we’ve welcomed the progress that’s been made throughout the year, with Co-op’s plastic film recycling scheme taking centre stage at our October Join in Live online events. In November, Co-op announced that colleagues would become ethical browsers with the introduction of Ecosia to the business’ networks and I’m very proud to say that Michael Harriott, South West, was the one to suggest this at the end of 2019. Through colleague searches, we’re expecting to plant up to 100k trees in 2021!

Two years ago this month, Council unanimously voted for Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities to become Co-op’s next big campaign. Our Public Affairs & Campaigns team has worked tirelessly ever since to lobby the government and urge them to protect retail workers from the daily violence and abuse that they face. This has been a big priority for Council and while there’s still work to be done, Co-op has succeeded in changing the UK’s attitudes towards retail crime and we remain hopeful that 2021 is the year we’ll see a new law come into effect.

What have you been most proud of in 2020?

Hearing that Co-op will be aligning with the Real Living Wage from next year was a huge moment, as this is something that Council has been fighting for and will provide 33,000 of our colleagues with the recognition their hard work deserves. We now also have 1,000 Member Pioneers around the UK, connecting our communities and providing support through our amazing initiatives. As Council created the model for the programme, seeing it go from strength-to-strength has been very fulfilling and we’re looking forward to working with our local Member Pioneers to better understand what our communities and members need. 

What are the NMC’s plans for 2021? What are you worried about or looking forward to?

We’re currently working on our priorities for 2021, incorporating the business’ plans and the feedback shared by members on Join in and at our Join in Live events around what matters most to them. Co-operative Member Education, Training & Information has been a big area of focus and research for Council and as part of Co-op’s new membership proposition, there’s a lot of great work going on to take members on a journey to becoming active in our Co-op. As part of this, Council will be trialling and testing new opportunities to get involved and learn about our difference, engaging with members in areas that interest them so they can see the impact having a say and being part of our democracy has – this is something we’ve wanted for a long time and I can’t wait to see it come to life in 2021.

What innovations / changes would you like to see by / for the Co-op Group and wider movement next year?

Applications for our 2021 Council Elections are opening on 13 January. Council Members act as voices for their communities and help Co-op to meet the needs of our members, but we can’t fully do this if we’re not representing and tackling what matters most to everyone. Co-op announced its commitment to racial equality and inclusion earlier this year and I’m keen to break down barriers in Council, so we can support the business with breaking down barriers in Co-op and society too. We’re always looking for members who are passionate about working with others to make a difference but to tackle inequalities sooner, we particularly want to hear from minority ethnic and young members.

In recent months, we’ve seen the true power of co-operation and I think more and more people are recognising the value in the co-operative way of living, working and doing business. A stronger, better connected movement is crucial for the future and Council remains a champion of the Co-op Group continuing to play an active and supportive role. We’re currently working on a joint policy with the Board to help us monitor this area going forward.