For me 2020 was going to be an amazing year. Personally, I was looking
forward to ticking off a major bucket list item, and I was leading the
Cooperative Society as acting CEO.
In January I travelled to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The trek
wasn’t easy, actually it was brutal in parts, especially the final overnight
trek to the summit, but what an awesome sense of achievement
standing on the Uhuru Peak having the customary picture taken.
As I travelled home there was a real sense the world was changing. Talk
of Covid-19 was mounting, global cases of coronavirus increasing, and
face masks were the new travel accessory.
The pandemic impacted our diverse business in different ways and
we became agile in our operations. We moved 150+ colleagues out
of the support centres to homeworking. In our food stores, after a
period of intense panic buying, we found ourselves contending with
the new terminology ‘social distancing’. How do you tell customers they
can’t come in when they want to? Or that they have to queue? What
mechanics do you put in place to deal with this? There were some
tough calls to make, not least having to stop double dividend days!
We worked around the clock to keep our shops fully stocked.
Pharmacies were inundated with prescriptions, patients couldn’t visit
their GP’s, funeral contingency plans were put in place but fortunately
never enacted and our Travelmaker colleagues went into overdrive as
travel became restricted.
I honestly couldn’t be prouder of our team, their energy and commitment
to supporting our members, customers, suppliers, and each other has
been nothing short of phenomenal. And it was right that they were
rewarded with a bonus for all their efforts.
At the Co-op we aren’t just shopkeepers – we have a wider purpose
and care passionately about the communities in which we operate.
We strive to make a difference. We strengthened our support for
those most vulnerable in the community. We improved payment
terms for local suppliers, supported food banks and increased our
When shocks come, they tend to hit the most vulnerable the hardest,
there has been hardship for many in our community, but we have also
seen overwhelming acts of kindness, compassion, and solidarity.
For me, leading the Society during what has got to be one of the most
challenging times in its 100-year history has been a privilege and a real
learning curve. Brexit now seems easy!
2020 might not have gone quite to plan but on reflection I draw a real
sense of pride and achievement from it. For everything we’ve been
through, how we’ve dealt with it and how we’ve all come together.