By Steve Murrells, Co-op CEO
On Saturday we held our first ever socially distanced Co-op Annual General Meeting (AGM), which is just one more example of us learning to do things differently because of the coronavirus crisis.
Instead of hundreds of our members gathering at our usual Manchester Central venue, there were just 20 members – sitting in different meeting rooms – at 1 Angel Square so that our governance requirements for the meeting were met.
While I was at 1 Angel Square, other members of our Executive and Board, along with our Council President, joined the meeting virtually. And our members were able to watch, comment and ask questions live on YouTube.
If you couldn’t join us live on Saturday, I’d encourage you to watch it back when you can.
Recognising your work during the crisis
These past few months have really highlighted what a special business this is, and the amazing things we can achieve when we all pull together. Every one of our AGM presenters spoke of the incredible hard work of our colleagues throughout the outbreak.
I used my time during the meeting to tell our members of your resilience, as well as your commitment to each other, your local communities and to our Co-op.
Our Funeralcare, Food and Health colleagues have had a critical role to play in supporting the nation through the pandemic and the social lockdown. And I didn’t want to leave out the thousands of colleagues who’ve been working from home for months, managing their work alongside family care and schooling responsibilities.
Our AGM is also an event where our members have their say on important motions which will set our agenda for the coming year. Apart from those attending at 1 Angel Square, we asked our members to make their voices heard ahead of the meeting.
I’m delighted to tell you that the motions put forward by our Council and the independent societies concerning climate change, ethical retailing and our role in the wider Co-op movement all had overwhelming support.
Following elections in every region, we also welcomed some new Council members, too.
And Margaret Casely-Hayford was elected as one of our Member Nominated Directors to the Board.
We looked ahead
As lockdown slowly starts to ease and the peak of infections and deaths are hopefully behind us, I closed the meeting by reflecting on what this moment means for our Co-op, the communities we serve and the nation as a whole.
I told our members that we had risen to the community challenges of the pandemic with huge experience and significant assets. That’s why we were able to respond so well over these last few months. It’s not been a response from a standing start. We were already part of the communities in which we trade.
I’m in no doubt that our Local Community Fund, the unique work of our Member Pioneers, our new Co-operate platform, and the insight we have from our Community Wellbeing Index will be essential parts of our Co-op response to the longer-term social damage caused by the virus.
Over the coming months and years, our Co-op will play its part in the nation’s recovery. But it won’t be easy for our members or for us as a business. Every part of our Co-op will need to respond to the new commercial environment in creative ways that stay true to our values.
The final point I wanted to make during the meeting was that going ‘back to normal’ after this pandemic isn’t going to be good enough. And it’s not really an option anyway. The world has moved on. Co-operation now needs to be ‘business as usual’, founded on the belief that fairness is central to our collective wellbeing.
So, we’ll show what authentic co-operation looks like in practice, as well as in theory, we’ll share what we know, we’ll work with others and we’ll succeed together, co-operating for a fairer world.