As a values-led community retailer, The Midcounties Co-operative pandemic response focused on supporting its members, employees and customers - particularly by helping the most vulnerable and those who are most ‘at risk’.
With annual gross sales of over £1bn, over 400 trading sites, 8,000 employees and over 700,000 members, the cooperative is a key economic player in its region. In 2019 alone, it enabled £1.5m to be distributed in the community and returned £1.5m to its members through dividends.
The cooperative adopted a series of urgent measures including a dedicated shopping hour for senior citizens and vulnerable customers in its Food Stores, isolation procedures at its Healthcare business and opening Food Stores an hour earlier in areas located near hospitals so health workers could obtain essential supplies. It also launched a Food Bank Fund and worked with members and local volunteering groups to set up a home delivery service from its Food Stores for vulnerable members of the community.
To support members using its Funeralcare business, Midcounties set up a ‘Remembering from Afar’ service, allowing mourners to attend funeral ceremonies online. The cooperative also launched a Frontline Hero Support Fund, providing financial support for childcare for essential workers. Furthermore, the Chief Executive of Midcounties Co-operative’s Childcare division, which runs 45 nurseries across the country, has written to the UK government to ask that Covid vaccinations for nursery workers are prioritised and lateral flow testing kits are made available to pre-school education providers.
Midcounties employees were rewarded for their service during the pandemic with increased colleague discounts, mental health support and personal protective equipment provision.
A plan to develop cooperative solutions
The cooperative’s COVID-19 strategy went beyond short-term measures by considering medium and long-term implications for the business. Midcounties developed revive (mid-term) and thrive (longer term) plans across all of its trading groups. From an overall ‘values’ perspective, these were designed to help rebuild the economy and develop cooperative solutions. For instance, a Community Restart Fund was launched to provide charity partners with financial support to help them rebuild.
Peter Westall, Chief Values Officer at the Midcounties Co-operative and leader of ICETT’s working groups on the World Cooperative Monitor and the Sustainable Development Goals, said: “In spite of the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, we were able to continue to provide much needed products and services whilst also benefiting our local community. Our approach was guided by our commitment to our values and principles. We will continue to work closely with our members to help develop cooperative solutions to COVID-19 issues, as well as other issues which our members tell us they care about”
Cooperative values were at the heart of these activities, says Midcounties. An example of this is its home delivery volunteer programme, which saw over 700 volunteers provide home deliveries for vulnerable people. Working closely with members means the cooperative can focus on what’s right for its communities and its members, and during this pandemic saw it go from set-up to over 50,000 home deliveries in a matter of weeks.
Through its regional community programme, Midcounties brought together members, colleagues and community groups to develop cooperative solutions to local issues.
Business of the Year
In addition to its response to COVID, Midcounties continued to focus on key sustainability initiatives including waste reduction across all operations and the elimination of single use plastic bags at its Food Stores. These efforts brought recognition for the cooperative group, which was recently named Business of the Year at the Edie Sustainability Leaders Awards. The cooperative also took home the award for the Social Sustainability & Community Development category. Midcounties was praised for its work on supporting the vulnerable in the community with food banks and home deliveries, reducing plastics and its support for community energy.
The Midcounties Co-operative is a member of the International Cooperative Entrepreneurship Think Tank (ICETT), a strategic hub set up in 2018 by the ICA to provide its members with useful information to strengthen cooperatives' entrepreneurial performance.