By Les Old – Format Integrity Manager: Format, Range and Space
The mock shop is a fully interactive Co-op store which opened at the Beacon Centre in South Shields earlier this month. It’s the first of its kind in the North East and will benefit students across South Tyneside. It’ll give them the opportunity to develop vital life and social skills and aims to prevent anti-social behaviour in the area.
Following on from similar mock shops in North Wales and Rotherham, the team at the Beacon Centre had seen what we’d done and made contact with me through social media. I then popped over to meet Kelly Hudson at the centre to understand how we could potentially help them out.
Kelly told me that the students at their education centre had mostly been excluded from mainstream schools for one reason or another. She explained what they we’re trying to achieve – including promoting healthy eating and handling money. Knife crime was also high on their radar following a recent fatal stabbing in the area, so they wanted to increase their student’s understanding around age restricted sales and why retailers often need to have difficult and challenging conversations.
To be honest, I was blown away by what they do at the centre. The conversations with Kelly really preyed on my mind and I just couldn’t walk away from it, I really wanted to help out. I asked one of our Refit Project Managers to take a look at what we’d need to do to bring their ideas to life through a mock-up Co-op shop and the creation of a learning centre. Putting my cards on the table, I was completely open and honest that we didn’t have any funds to bring it to life, but I’ve been completely astounded by what our Co-op team and suppliers did to help us. Over £100,000 was donated to get the project off the ground.
Fast forward eight months and the Beacon Centre essentially have access to a full Co-op store and a purpose built learning centre. They use it to educate their students and also invite other schools in the area to come along and make use of the learning experiences we’ve helped provide.
When you’re in the shop, it’s just like the real thing with shelves, packaging, signage and point of sale. There are tills – including two self-service tills. The kit’s there to bring to life how customer service works, and how our systems and processes guide our store colleagues to make sure they have the right conversations with customers. There’s an opportunity for role play and the students can experience what it’s really like from behind the other side of the checkout, including the age restricted sales prompts we use to make sure we’re safe and legal.
I couldn’t have done this without the help of Steven Varty from the construction team and Simon Carroll from disposals. We started with just a room and a door, but have delivered more than just a make-shift Co-op shop. Together we’ve brought Kelly’s ideas to life, supporting the local community to help change people’s lives.