By Jane Walapu and Frances Chant, Co-op Colleague Recognition Team

We recently announced our #BeingCoop Award winners, we’re really proud to now be announcing the winners of our Local Hero award.

We’ve been amazed by the stories we’ve heard about the lengths colleagues have gone to over the last few months in order to help others, and this is why we added this extra Local Hero category into the #BeingCoop awards. We wanted to recognise the amazing things that you’re doing, and have done, to not only support your fellow colleagues but also your communities during this time of crisis.

All of our nominated colleagues should be very proud and a huge congratulations goes to our three winners: Paul Stephenson, Karl Josko and Dougie McFadzean. Here are their stories:

Paul Stephenson, Store Manager Mytholmroyd (formerly Rippondeen)

During the coronavirus crisis, Paul proved what an inspirational leader he really is. He kept his team updated daily with the latest information to ensure everyone was safe whilst at work and made weekly calls to every colleague at Ripponden to check on mental and physical well-being – this really meant a lot. Paul immediately took control of the safety of colleagues and customers in store – implementing a one way system, an outside queuing area and he even manned the door when the store became too busy.

Proving himself to be a real community man too, he supported the whole Ripponden community throughout the pandemic. He interacted with the Ripponden Facebook page on a daily basis – updating when deliveries had arrived, giving information on any new restrictions and opening times, really reassuring the community that Co-op was a safe environment.

From his Facebook interactions, Paul noticed a post from a lady explaining her daughter had severe anxiety and hadn’t left the house. She was requesting people to display rainbows in their windows for the little girl to count, so Paul accepted the challenge and went one step further – creating a huge rainbow display in the shop window made up of post-it notes with messages from staff and other customers sending their happy birthday wishes.

He’s delivered shopping to the vulnerable and quarantined, and is still doing so. Every Thursday evening Paul arranged for staff members to get involved with the NHS and keyworker clap. On one occasion, Paul visited all the surrounding houses to encourage people to get join in. Residents displayed bags for life in their window in a show of solidarity, whilst every colleague participated in the one-off special, which also included a laser projector. The event was filmed and shared on social media – it was amazing!

Paul also arranged a foodbank and NHS collection area in the store and inspired 17 other stores in the area to also take part – he collected over 100 bags of hygiene products. Ripponden store also donated 50 bags to a local foodbank, with their donations continuing still. The community love Paul as the manager of Ripponden. He’s now moved to the Mytholmroyd store where he’s continuing to do great things regarding social distancing and is getting more plaudits on social media and has been on TV because of it (BBC1 Look North). Paul’s gone above and beyond during the coronavirus crisis and this is why he truly is a local hero.

Karl Josko, Store Manager, Lyme Regis

Karl’s a fantastic support to the community around Lyme Regis – he’s a tireless fundraiser and organiser for local events as far ranging as a sponsored beach walk, through to litter picking and even Halloween events.

At Christmas Karl successfully raised £250 for a local play group that had been struggling. The money that had been raised was used to buy gifts to surprise the children with – with the local newspaper reporting on the act of generosity.

Karl always goes the extra mile. In the middle of this pandemic, he had an idea to inject a bit of fun into customers shopping trips and raised money for charity by holding a ‘Hawaiian dress down weekend’. Never one to shy away from getting involved, he even dyed his hair to suit the tropical occasion.

Karl shared this idea with other stores across the region who all took part. As well as bringing some sunshine to a horrible situation they raised a massive £10,000 for Fareshare. Karl is the epitomy of a local hero.

Dougie McFadzean – Delivery driver, Bowmore Islay

As part of his job as a Co-op delivery driver, Dougie realised that the coronavirus crisis was going to have a profound effect on Islay. As a retired Police Officer, he knew there were a number of risks to vulnerable people being able to access basic necessities such as food, medicines and hygiene products. He arranged a meeting with a member of the local community who organises support for older people on the island to see what they could do to help.

With swift action needed, the Islay Resilience Group was created. Over 200 volunteers and volunteer co-ordinators pledged their support along with monetary donations of over £150,000 (and counting) being received. As Islay is a big whisky producing island, several thousand bottles of hand sanitiser were also donated. The aim of the Islay Resilience Group was to support those residents in the community who needed it the most, and now thanks to the resources that had been sourced, the volunteers were able to do just that.

This involved:

  • Going shopping for those who were isolating or shielding, delivering their groceries free of charge along with any medicines that were needed
  • Creating welfare boxes to distribute to anyone who was in financial hardship
  • Donating money to local charities and community organisations
  • Delivering free hot meals and soups to those who were isolating or shielding
  • Linking volunteers with specific residents for regular phonecalls to help tackle loneliness during isolation
  • Attending emergency planning meetings chaired by the police
  • Supplying hand sanitiser to the ambulance service, local hospital, small businesses and charities
  • Delivering hand sanitiser to everyone living on Islay and the neighbouring island of Jura

Their actions caught the attention of several local publications and also received national BBC news coverage, with the community support continuing for as long as it’s needed. Dougie was pivotal in setting this Resilience Group up and undertook a lot of the deliveries personally. He’s a real hero.  

The Virtual Afternoon Tea

I think you’ll agree that each and every one of our winners and runners up are simply amazing. With the lengths they’ve gone to and all they’ve managed to achieve, we knew we wanted to do something special for them.

Despite coronavirus hampering any attempts for a physical get together this year – we decided that it was too big an occasion to let it simply pass by. Thanks to the efforts of the Events team and the Recognition team, we turned our attentions online and for the first time ever, hosted our first Virtual Afternoon Tea.

Ahead of the event, everyone received a hamper packed full of tasty treats to enjoy as we all met virtually in our celebratory world. We were lucky enough to enjoy surprise video testimonials explaining a bit more about just exactly what it was that led to people being nominated in their respective award categories; we had a wonderful musical serenade from the Blue Clovers which couldn’t fail to put a smile on your face and all attendees were encouraged to raise a glass in cheers to acknowledge their outstanding achievements which were also shouted about loud and proud on social media using #BeingCoop.

So now all that is left to say is congratulations once again to all of our winners and runners up. The #BeingCoop Awards are a real showcase of the brilliance that runs throughout our Co-op day in, day out and everyone should be immensely proud.