By Steve Murrells, CEO
Supporting aspiration and promoting fairness and opportunity is right at heart of our vision – “Co-operating for a Fairer World” and, as I said after our AGM, by taking a co-operative approach we’ll achieve far more.
Last week (17 May) I was delighted to get out into the community and see some of our brilliant partnerships in action and spend time with the people both working with us and benefitting from the initiatives.
First stop – Co-op Academy Failsworth
I was delighted to open one of the first 100 new community fridges as part of our partnership with Hubbub at our Co-op Academy in Failsworth.
Community fridges are open to everyone – without any need for people to be referred or having to prove eligibility – to share fresh food that would otherwise have gone to waste. The food can be donated by any businesses and as you’d expect we’re donating surplus food from our own stores.
We’ve been able to invest in the community fridges thanks to our members and the contribution of 2p in every £1 spent on Co-op own-branded products. This is shared between our Local Community Fund and our new Community Partnerships Fund, which support grassroots projects that provide access to food, help improve mental wellbeing or create opportunities for young people.
It’s such an innovative scheme bringing communities together, empowering people towards community-led food solutions that will help to build community resilience.
As well as improving access to food, the fridges go beyond this by empowering communities to connect with each other, and learn new skills through activities such as cookery sessions and workshops on how to grow your own fruit and veg.
The highlight of my time at the academy was not only spending time with the students who had helped set up the fridge, but also taking part in a Year 7 nutrition skills class where I got to dust off my cooking skills with the children. With a lot of help from the students in the class, I was able to produce a pretty good chicken stir fry. The recipe we used was part of the Marcus Rashford’s Full Time campaign, which has been set up to help find long-term solutions to help combat child food poverty across the UK
The class was great fun, and it was fantastic to hear from the students how learning about cooking skills is making a positive difference to them and their families.
Supporting apprentice firefighters
Next, I visited Manchester Central Fire Station where, through our Apprenticeship Levy scheme, we’re supporting 41 apprentice firefighters across the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service through their 2 year training programme. I met with Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Leon Parkes, Station Manager, Dave Wilson and firefighter apprentices Ryan Mather, Aaron Crawley and Craig Austin to learn more about the station and the apprentices.
We’ve pledged almost half a million pounds from our Apprenticeship Levy supporting a team of apprentices last summer and another team who will start this summer.
Talking to the apprentices at the fire station, I was blown away by how much is involved in training to be a firefighter and it was great to hear each of them talk with such enthusiasm about how the scheme has helped each of them on their own journeys to becoming part of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service.
As you might expect, the team took full advantage of having me with them for a couple of hours. At one point it was crawling through a pitch-black storage container to experience some of the search and rescue training the team do. I was then over 40ft up in the air on one of the station’s new extendable platforms. I now certainly have a newfound appreciation for just how physically and mentally demanding it is to be a firefighter!
As with spending time at Failsworth Academy, it was great to see our vision in action and seeing first-hand the difference Co-op is making to people in our communities.
Meeting business leaders of the future
My final meet-up of the day was a virtual one, with students from Connell Co-op College who joined the Co-op as part of our Young Business Leaders programme. The programme’s been designed to increase employability of young people by providing access to real work experiences, skills and training.
We talked about their experience so far, what they’ve enjoyed, and what they’d change. And we chatted about everything from what they care about and their ideas on the things we could be doing better, to our commitments to diversity and inclusion and climate change, and what they want to do next.
This current group of students will finish the programme in July, having gained experience across Co-op Business Services, including Customer Services, Finance, HR and Business Optimisation. Another cohort of students will begin the programme in the Autumn.
Given the fantastic conversation we had, and some of the ideas the students shared with me, I’m really hopeful that we’ll see many of them taking up future opportunities here at the Co-op once they’ve competed their studies.
Over the next few months I’ll be out on the road regularly, visiting our communities and spending time with more of the people we’re working with. I’ll be sharing more stories that show how we’re bringing our vision to life, so please look out for my next ‘on the road’ blog in June.