I spent yesterday stacking shelves and helping customers at my local store – Framwellgate Moor. Thanks to Vicky and Kate for making me welcome and showing me the ropes – and it was also good to see Lloyd and Michael the Regional and Area managers passing through on a tour of the shops during the morning! Framwellgate Moor store only opened in the summer, but it is already achieving and indeed exceeding its sales targets thanks to the friendly and hard-working staff team, and this is also reflected in an excellent customer satisfaction score, well above the national average.
For me it was great to see things from a shop floor angle, and gain much greater familiarity with the range of products that we stock and with the customer experience. Lots of colleagues from the support centre at the Co-op are encouraged to spend a day helping out under our “Lend A Hand” scheme, as an important gesture of support at this busiest period of the year, but it also keeps us all rooted in the realities of our business by experiencing the “frontline”.
Morale is high at Framwellgate, but it is good that in the last week or so our latest “Talkback” survey of our 70,000 colleagues across the Group has shown a strongly improving trend in colleague “engagement” right across the country. In a way this improvement is not surprising given the Back to Being Co-op training most colleagues have been through this year that has helped re-instil pride in our history what we stand for, the excitement of our rebranding and relaunch of Co-op membership, and the sense of satisfaction that comes from a renewed confidence in the outstanding quality and value of our own brand products. Combined with the positive sales momentum we have experienced throughout the year, I was expecting to see the figures on an upward trajectory. But nonetheless the improvement is important further evidence that “the Co-op is back” and going places. If we are going to succeed there is no doubt this can only be built through the enthusiasm, skill and dedication of our colleagues as they meet the needs of our members and customers and serve their local communities.
A great note on which to finish before Christmas!
Took a day out a couple of weeks ago to visit four small companies feeding products into our new local ranges in North Yorkshire. A wonderful chance to see how cheese, cakes, ale and burgers are made using local ingredients and recipes. The picture is me inspecting cheeses at Shepherd’s Purse. Thanks to the staff who took the time to explain about their businesses and production processes.
Co-op is trying to bring more products from local small-scale suppliers into our stores – offering a choice customers tell us they want and also helping those companies to build their capacity to sell to other organisations too. It’s an important contribution we can make to the local community. The initiative is already up and running in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and soon to be rolled out to other regions. It adds logistical complexity, but is a great thing for us to do as an expression of the Co-op Way: and makes some really tasty products more widely available.
The Co-op Group and British Red Cross have formed a partnership to tackle the issue of loneliness in the UK, and launched a research report on the subject yesterday. This has highlighted that loneliness is not just an issue for older people, but can affect people of all age and backgrounds. The media have particularly picked up the fact that new mums are especially vulnerable to feeling isolated while looking after their young children – but there are many other affected groups.
For the Co-op loneliness is an issue of relevance to many parts of our family of businesses. Our food stores provide a vital social lifeline for people who otherwise have little contact with others – and we know many stories of our colleagues who have gone out of their way to look after regular customers whom they suspect to be isolated and who fail to turn up when expected at that store. Our FuneralCare business is also at the front line in providing help to people at a time when they are particularly likely to fall into a cycle of loneliness and depression following the death of a loved one.
So it is no surprise that over the last 15 months our colleagues have really thrown themselves behind fund-raising efforts for the British Red Cross as our chosen charity partner. We set a target of raising £3.5 million over two years, but have already exceeded £4 million and are still going strong.
But what is really exciting is that we are not planning just to hand over a cheque and let the Red Cross get on with things. We announced yesterday that Co-op intends to really get behind the challenge of tackling loneliness in an active way:
- Encouraging members and colleagues to volunteer for the new centres being set up by the British Red Cross across the country to reach out to people experiencing loneliness and help them to reconnect with their communities.
- Building up local voluntary organisations in the 1500 communities around the country where Co-op has a presence, through distributing of 1% of the value of member purchases of own brand purchases. The research indicates that getting involved in volunteering is one of the best ways of overcoming loneliness and restoring one’s sense of identity and purpose. My hope is that we can also harness the energies of some of our 50,000 pensioners behind such groups.
- Setting up more bereavement clubs in our funeral homes, a proven way of helping people at a key trigger point in their lives.
- Our Insurance business is aiming to help set up 30,000 further Neighbourhood Watch groups – and encourage them not only to look out for each other’s property, but to look out for those suffering loneliness and other issues in their own communities.
- Increasing awareness of loneliness issues among our own 70,000 colleagues. The research ages it clear that many people in the workplace are experiencing loneliness, and that employers can do more to help. There is also a key role for us as a business to help our own colleagues prepare well for retirement – another of the key transition points that people can find difficult.
So this initiative is going well beyond the normal Corporate Social Responsibility raising money for good causes. It is about getting the organisation as fully behind tackling loneliness as we can. It is a great example of a full collaboration between a business and a major charity. And it is another good reason to feel proud and excited about being Co-op and the way Co-op is really re-engaging with making our communities better places for everyone.
You can find the full and summary report at: coop.co.uk/loneliness
At the Co-op support centre in Manchester again this week, and attended a moving presentation and video about the work Co-op is supporting to bring clean water to communities in Africa.
Every litre of our own brand “Fairbourne Springs”water raises 3p for OneFoundation’s work – and over the ten years we have had this link we have raised over £7 million. And now we are extending the scheme to our own-brand flavoured waters too, which should increase donations by 30% a year.
The video showed examples of the work carried out in Malawi. this brought back memories for me of visits there with Traidcraft, and especially of one village where our fair trade premiums had been used for a bore hole. When I asked one of the village women about the benefits I was told “now we have safe water”. I assumed this meant it was a clean and healthy source rather than a potentially polluted river. But no. It was safe because they no longer had to risk going past the crocodiles to get to the river – with villagers regularly being attacked and one or two deaths each year.
Makes you realise just how lucky we are in this country to have clean water literally on tap. Another great example of what makes me proud to be part of the Co-op – and why would you choose any other water when you are in one of our shops?