The Co-op: The power of ‘co-operation’

Annabel Gledhill, Co-Op employee

As a member-owned organisation, The Co-op work together with their customers, members, colleagues and communities to make a real impact at a grass-roots level and enable individuals to get involved and make things happen themselves. 

Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the Co-op encouraged their colleagues to play an active role in the communities that they serve. In 2019, Co-op colleagues supported their communities by volunteering with local charities, organising fundraising events, serving as trustees or governors, and supporting causes participating in the Local Community Fund. Around 10,000 colleagues spent more than 230,000 hours supporting community activity in 2019.

A key way that they work with their communities is via their Member Pioneers. The Co-op community activists bring together Co-op members, colleagues and local causes to make communities a better place to work, play, live and learn. They build community wellbeing at a local level by bringing together like-minded people and offer practical advice and help.

Member Pioneers have been essential to the Co-op’s COVID-19 response in communities, which has been focussed around supporting vulnerable people with shopping, keeping people connected and encouraging local people to get involved with volunteering opportunities.

Annabel Gledhill, is the Member Pioneer for the Easingwold area in North Yorkshire. When Annabel realised there was no COVID-19 Mutual Aid group for the town, she decided to set one up (following the official guidelines). Annabel knew she couldn’t do this alone and recruited two volunteers to help run the group and within only a few hours of launch they had over 500 members. There were so many questions, so much uncertainty and so many offers of help that, Annabel decided to reach out to the communities’ Co-op Local Community Fund causes that she had strong links with, Easingwold and District Care in the Community Association (EDCCA). The group has grown to nearly around 1,000 people. It has become a real online community, with people posting things to do, activities for the children, local services that are available, requests for help and offers of assistance.

The Co-op’s top takeaways on how to work together with communities:

  1. Co-operate, don’t duplicate: From working with communities we understand that providing support is most successful when it is in co-operation with others. We do not aim to duplicate local efforts, but complement them with additional money, skills, time and resources. We would encourage other businesses to do the same. 
  2. Work with communities to create the solutions: We were able to support individuals in need through the COVID-19 crisis because of our online community centre Co-operate. The platform was created with communities, for communities, and has supported people getting food and essentials, through to support with accessing online classes and activities.
  3. Act quickly and be reactive: We didn’t have a national food delivery system in place to support with COVID-19, but we co-operated with others quickly to ensure those who had to stay at home could get their essentials delivered. We did this with the support of our Member Pioneer network, links with the Co-op Party and existing Local Authority relationships. Our Co-operate Platform allowed us to recruit and vet volunteers directly to support.

To get involved and find out how you can support your local community go to