Our C-Store Champions agree community work is of utmost importance, but they all carry out this role in their own personal ways

Kishor Patel, three Nisa Locals in Hertfordshire

Kishor is always on the lookout for new causes to get behind and believes community work enhances local trust towards your business

Kate Mills, Heath Stores, Horsmonden, Kent

Kate won the Community Retailer of the Year award at the Convenience Retail Awards 2015. You can’t put a price on community work, she says

Susan Connolly, four Spar stores in Wiltshire

Susan raised £2,500 for the local football and netball teams from a sky dive, which generated goodwill and brought new shoppers to the store

Simon Taylor, Co-op Food Nottinghamshire area manager

Simon believes that carrying out community work benefits staff taking part as well as the local area

What are the general benefits of taking part in community work, both for your business and for you personally?

Kishor: It helps us get in front of the customers and get an engagement with them. It improves customer confidence with the store and respect for the staff. It generally shows we are part of the local community rather than just a shop. The pleasure you get from it is a big thing as well.

Kate: Doing community work is something we would do personally anyway. Having a business just allows us to have a greater impact, it’s part of who we are. 
Our community is strong and 
everyone’s looking out for each other. People say to us we have brought new life to the village – when someone takes the time and effort to put on events, everybody 
benefits. Our livelihood is based on this community so we want people to be happy and healthy. I’m giving away products and investing nearly £1,000 over the year on events, but you can’t put a price on what you get back from community work.

The C-Store Champions are a group of experienced retailers who understand the role of the local store in their community. They are tuned into the demands and desires of their customers and believe in continual development of their businesses. Each month the Champions share their expertise

Susan: I like the people element to the work. It’s a way of giving something back to the community so people don’t think we are just  there to take from them. Customers can see we are investing in their community.

Simon: Working closely with our communities and continually demonstrating our approachability and co-operative difference really helps to build stronger relationships locally. It’s extremely rewarding to get involved and to make a positive difference to the lives of local people. It also deepens our understanding of the diverse needs of a community, whether that is considering further ways in which we can support and play our part, or how we tailor our range, products and service to deliver consistently great customer experiences.

Do you sponsor any community events or projects?

Kishor: We support the local football team and provide refreshments, burgers, sausages, salads, rolls etc for the annual Hemel Sevens tournament. We serve about 4,000 people over a couple of days. We donate £1,000 a year for the medals fund as well.

Kate: We sponsor the school football team and we paid for their football kit. We also sponsor the three-day annual summer festival which I help organise and run. Every month I deliver a shop newsletter and the festival is advertised in there.

Susan: The local football club. Our logo is on their kit and their symbol is on our uniform. We paid £4,000 for four years.

Simon: We have a colleague who has been identified as a Community Pioneer. This is a member of the food store team who also has time set aside for community 
activities, from local fundraising initiatives to helping to understand and develop solutions to meet community needs.

What were the outcomes of that  community work, both initially and in the long term?

Kishor: Sometimes the benefits are visible, sometimes they’re not. All our logos are there at the local football club matches so whenever someone takes a photo we are in the background. We opened a bar and restaurant last year, and because people respect us as business owners and trust us, that has been a success. Without that background, it would have been an uphill struggle.

Kate: The football kit has got our logo on it and we put our advertising up at the event.

Susan: There’s currently no way of measuring the return, but I am trying to create a way.

Simon:  Having a positive relationship with the community and other local stakeholders really encourages engagement. The work helps to build solid foundations where we can support the community and understand the differences that can be made both in the short term and the role we can play locally and regionally in the longer term.

Are you planning any further community work this year?

Kishor: We’ve started doing work with the Snow Sports Foundation at the Snow Centre, in Hemel Hempstead, which teaches people of all ages with disabilities or difficulties how to ski.

Kate: The annual apple, cider and beer festival takes place in October to celebrate local harvest. We get local suppliers into the shop to promote their produce. We’ve decided to do a patriotic festival in celebration of the Queen’s 90th and also as a joint official launch of our refit which will take place in April. On St Nicholas’ Day we have carols, and give out mulled wine and mince pies. The vicar comes and tells children stories of St Nicholas and we turn on the village lights.

Susan: I have an aim in which each store is dementia friendly and the staff are ‘dementia friends’, so  we become known as ‘safe places’. This means people with dementia can come to the stores if they become lost or scared. I sit on the dementia board for the area and I’m working with the police to try to get access to dementia sufferers’ addresses so if they come to the store we can take them home, rather than them being carted off by the police. 
Also we will be running the Christmas lunch and probably something for the Queen’s birthday in April.

Simon: I work with colleagues including Clare Wilson, Nottinghamshire regional manager, to ensure we play a part in local life. Our work needs to consider every aspect of our local communities. It involves colleagues working with their local school to provide education on areas such as Fairtrade, health, nutrition and well-being, as well as helping to tackle unemployment or engaging with communities to help clean up the streets or decorate a community building.

Do you have a chosen specific charity, or do you support a range of local causes?

Kishor: A wide range and we always listen to the community to hear of new causes.

Kate: A whole range. People come to the store and ask us if we’ll support their charities, and we do.

Susan: We say yes to everything. We have a donation pot for the defibrillator fund. We fundraise for lots of little causes. Last year a man, about 90 years old, was robbed and we raised the money to replace what was stolen. It was only about £100 or something but it meant the world to him. I cried when we gave it to him. He comes into our store every single day for his paper now.

Simon: The Co-op’s new charity partnership is with the British Red Cross and will help to raise awareness of and tackle social isolation and loneliness in local communities. We also support a range of local good causes, charities, volunteering activities and schools, which builds local relationships.

Would you say this sort of work has become more or less important lately?

Kishor: I would say it’s more important than ever before. The only thing is, you have to move along with the times. Now it’s more 
challenging because you have to engage with the next generation in a different way. Whether it’s through Facebook, Twitter or email, they want to engage but it tends to be a short, sharp engagement. They will support a cause by sharing a link online.

Kate: I think it’s much more important now. If you are the focal point of the village there’s a responsibility to support the community that supports you. We are relying on them so you have to give something back.

Susan: It’s definitely more important. Another store down the road used to do a bit in the community and it’s noted by the community that they don’t do anything now. In Pewsey everyone is connected to everyone so everyone knows someone we’ve helped.

Simon: Being aligned with our communities has always been fundamental at the Co-op, we are a community-based retailer. The founding values and principles of the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 are still relevant today and brought to life through, for instance, the Co-op’s purpose which is “Championing a better way of doing business for you and your communities”. Bringing such a strong purpose to life is vital and I feel that understanding and supporting communities’ local to our stores is still key.

What tips would you give to retailers wanting to get more involved in their community?

Kishor: Don’t sit back. Go out and talk to the key people. There will always be someone doing community work. Start with councillors, then talk to your MP. They all 
want the resulting publicity – a couple of photos in the local press – so they will get involved. You need to be seen to be interested in the community and then they will come to you and tell you about local projects.

Kate: Have a think if there’s a local need and an event that could help that cause. It’s important to support a range of charities. Do more than giving money – give your time and effort. Help create a community that values you immensely and will be more loyal to you. Once you’ve done one event, it will be easy to do it again and again.

Susan: Find out what your community wants and needs. Ask customers and talk to local schools – that’s a great way of getting in. You can do a healthy eating talk at a school and promote fruit and vegetables. Tiny things like that don’t cost a lot of money, but they get people into your store. Or you can always throw yourself out of a plane!

Simon: Before you go out and explore your community I think it is important to consider and be clear about how you can achieve and deliver the support that is needed locally – what can you offer and how can you make the most impact and difference? Once you’ve identified this, the key things are: be inquisitive; demonstrate why your support is also important to you and your business; and,
finally, go out into your community, make a difference and do a great job!

Do you handle the community support activity yourself, or do you need your staff to execute it?

Kishor: My staff give their time and effort. They get involved in the Children in Need dress-up and collect money in buckets. All their work gives us a good brand perception locally and the staff are proud to wear their uniform and walk to work.

Kate: It’s mostly me, but I want to get the rest of the staff involved more. We’ve got a retail apprentice who I would like to include in the work. But I am the one with the passion for it so I was honoured to be awarded Community Retailer of the Year at the Convenience Retail Awards in 2015.

Susan: I do all of it and I rope the staff in, but they are a really good bunch so if I come up with something they usually really want to get involved anyway.

Simon: Hundreds of our food stores have an active Community Pioneer. As regional manager I support that culture and activity while understanding we can make a positive, long-term difference across wider communities.

What is the most rewarding community project you have taken part in?

Kishor: The Christmas lunch which we do for the elderly every year. We started it six years ago for about 30 people. Every year it’s increased and last year we had 80-100.

Kate: We held two big events last year: the Great Village Bake Off in aid of Comic Relief raised £1,000. The biggest benefit was how it brought the community together. Everybody baked - businesses, groups, clubs and individuals - and they all said what enormous fun it was. We also held a tea party on VE Day for Walking with the Wounded in our front garden.

Susan: The sky dive I did in 2014. Myself and a deputy manager raised £2,500 for the netball team and the football club. Pewsey is very community orientated, so it was in the local newspaper. All the parents said that what I did was brilliant and started coming to the store more. About 200 children are in the football club so that’s a lot of local parents. Another was our Christmas lunch last year. Lots of people donated for the raffle, including one customer who brought in 12 bottles of wine. The local butcher donated the turkey, and Waitrose donated £350 from their green coins scheme.

Simon: The most inspiring event I’ve been a part of is the #Doorstepchallenge. Colleagues carried out small, random acts of kindness in their communities - gifts of groceries for vulnerable or isolated members of a community, or simply to say “thank you” and to acknowledge the community endeavours of local people.