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