Spent yesterday visiting the wonderful Beamish open air museum here in the North-East. As always one of the highlights was going round the village high street from the early 1900s: a high street dominated by the Co-op’s grocery and haberdashery stores.
I loved the nostalgia of looking along shelves to see some brands that are still going strong (Colman’s mustard, Rowntree chocolate …), and other products that have long since disappeared. Lots of Co-operative Wholesale Society own brand products too, of course, many of them manufactured and packaged in our own factories and proudly labelled with their origins. Early examples of the importance of knowing a product’s provenance.
And there were the posters urging customers to “Join Us” as members – something we are still encouraging people to do today.
Over half a million customers have signed up to become members since the New Year – so we are well on our way to the target of one million new members this year. But we need to do more than sign people up. We need to reconnect with the local community too, in the same way that the store at Beamish was once the heart of the community in Annfield Plain.
So I am delighted with the £9 million we have given to 4,000 good causes around the UK and that we have announced in the last week. This is the first fruit of our 1% donations on all own brand products bought by members since the relaunch of our Membership offer in September. As the scheme builds we hope to be giving £20 million a year in this way: that’s serious money. I hope the pioneers and the many colleagues who worked for Co-op down through the last 170 years would be proud of what we are still able to do in the spirit of the service they gave their local communities.