Four members of Southern Co-op’s Board of Directors are sharing their experiences during this year’s Co-op Fortnight and ahead of the 100th International Day of Cooperatives on 2 July.
Once a year, co-ops of all shapes and sizes come together to show the power of cooperation during Co-op Fortnight. In 2022, Co-op Fortnight takes place from Monday 20 June to Sunday 3 July.
In 2022, the theme is #UnwrapCoops which is harnessing the power of stories to give members the chance to celebrate the positive influence their co-op has had on their lives.
Co-ops are owned by the people closest to the business, not distant investors. This means beyond profits, co-ops focus how they bring value to their members and community.
‘Ignorance can be overcome through learning’ – Joanne Gray
A Hove resident, who was the driving force behind adding diversity and inclusion to a co-operative board of directors, Joanne says people need to be open to feeling a level of discomfort that comes with acknowledging and accepting our knowledge gaps around diversity, equality and inclusion.
Joanne Gray, 47, has been on Southern Co-op’s Board of Directors for four years and, as a regular customer at her local Southern Co-op convenience store, when Joanne was first elected on to the Board she soon learnt that her own values around equality and equity align with those held by the regional co-operative.
She has since become the Board ambassador for Diversity and Inclusion and helped recruit new member Olu John who was co-opted to help the Board further its work in improving its approach to diversity and inclusion.
Joanne said: “Equality is something that is so close to my heart. It was bothering me that, whilst there was a good gender ratio on the Board, it didn’t feel like we were representing the diverse experiences and perspectives of our members as far as we could, which is so vitally important.
“One of the biggest obstacles many of us need to overcome when educating ourselves around diversity and inclusion is that it may feel uncomfortable at times, it takes a level of vulnerability to admit that we don’t fully understand the experiences of others and that the assumptions we hold may need updating. Being open-minded and open to learning is a great starting point.
“Being the Board ambassador at Southern Co-op has been a wonderful opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and advocacy; it inspired me to do an online learning course which was aimed at challenging racial myths and biases in Britain through the lens of Black cultures, this has fuelled my commitment to making lasting change.”
In her spare time, Joanne, who is an Organisational Psychologist, is also the Brown Owl for the 1st Hove Brownies and has been inspiring the group with other co-operative values.
During Fairtrade Fortnight, Joanne organised a week of Fairtrade activities where they learnt the importance of ensuring workers have a good wage and safe working conditions.
They are also learning about food waste and helping others after making several donations to the Brighton women’s centre.
Joanne said: “I want to empower the Brownies by building their knowledge and appreciation of the need to create a fairer, kinder and more sustainable society.”
‘Being part of the local community – it’s the kind of thing that makes our business what it is’ – Tony Scott
As a Purbrook dad who has worked for the regional co-operative for two decades, Tony Scott believes the pandemic saw colleagues collaborate more than they have ever done before.
Tony, 47, is an Area Manager for Southern Co-op. Following a family history in baking, including a grandfather who was head baker on QE2, Tony started in the bakery before working his way up from Team Leader to Deputy Manager, Store Manager, Area Support Manager, and finally Area Manager.
Tony said: “We all fought in one direction and worked together to get through the pandemic. We delivered things at such an astronomical pace to support our colleagues.
“There’s a whole raft of people that have gone above and beyond. As a business, the main thing to me is that it’s the most collaborative that this business has ever been.
“A lot of it is about having a sense of belonging and loyalty as they don’t want to let people down.”
With Southern Co-op first being formed in Portsmouth 149 years ago, Tony believes the sense of community and loyalty is something still shared by customers and colleagues today.
He said: “When I first started here it felt like a family. People knew you by name and I don’t think we have lost that. I know we have got a lot bigger but I still think we have got that family vibe.
“The loyalty we get from our customers and colleagues is built off this. People in this community are co-op through and through.
“For me, one of the key things we do is support our local communities. I think back as a Store Manager in the Pompey region and remember the work we did supporting Tom Prince Cancer Trust.
“For a number of years we did a blue day that the whole community got behind. Going around the city, shaking buckets, being part of the local community – it’s the kind of thing that makes our business what it is. We always have and always will do whatever we can.”
Tony believes the co-operative values are also reflected in Southern Co-op’s Local Flavours range which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.
Tony said: “Southern Co-op led the charge with local and how we have supported these businesses when they have been in times of need.
“We act in a cooperative manner and look after everyone the best way we can. It’s not just about the bottom line.”
‘Diversity isn’t just about race – we are all different’ – Olu John
An Andover resident, who was elected on to a co-operative board to promote diversity, Olu John is encouraging others to look beyond race when looking at equality and inclusion.
Olu, 45, is one of the newest members of Southern Co-op’s Board of Directors and, despite his brief time with the regional co-operative, he already believes people can learn a lot from co-operatives as he has already been inspired to think more about waste.
Olu, who was born in Nigeria and has lived in a number of UK locations before settling in Hampshire, said: “For the first time in my life, I understand what a co-op is and what the principles are. There is a co-op for virtually everything and it is the perfect organisation for me.
“Being part of Southern Co-op has helped me become more sustainable. I try to separate out recycling as much as I can, I have learnt about food waste and I make sure clothes are donated. I am definitely a better person in that area.”
Olu was particularly impressed with how co-operatives work together to support local and international communities. For example, during the pandemic, emergency funding of £100,000 was donated to an Indian co-operative federation which works with 106 women’s co-ops, enabling them to provide a sustainable livelihood for female workers.
Olu, who currently works in sales and provision for an IT firm, said: “I have seen the impact that co-ops have had internationally. It’s a big community and its one big family.
“Looking ahead, the cost of living is key as it is important to support food banks and make donations. We need to help people in our local communities.”
Being the first Board member at Southern Co-op to be specifically recruited to promote diversity and inclusion, Olu is keen to spread the message that we need to look beyond our differences.
Olu said: “We need to bring people together with the message of diversity and inclusion – young, old, different ethnicities. People just need to be comfortable whether you are black, white, Christian or Muslim.
“People look at diversity as just race but it’s not. For example, the store in my area is designed to make it easier for people with disabilities.
“People need to have a voice. We are all different. My brother is different to me. We have to see what qualities that person has and bring the best out in people. That is the message I will be helping the Board to get out.”
‘I hope we will continue to be aware, sensitive and compassionate as we move forward’ – Jessica Danyluk
Jessica, an Isle of Wight resident, is encouraging people to continue to harness the co-operative values we’ve shared over the last two years and work together to help our local communities.
Also a new member of Southern Co-op’s Board of Directors, Jessica Danyluk, 45, found there was more to love about her role on the Board than she first thought.
Jessica said: “I was not aware of the full range of business lines and services that Southern Co-op is involved in. You immediately think of grocery stores, and spot funeral homes here and there, but I was not at all aware of the Starbucks franchise. My grandfather and then my mother owned a family-run memorial business, and as an American I can’t help but love a Starbucks coffee.”
Living in Cowes and reflecting on the pandemic, Jessica believes we need to hold on to the co-operative spirit which we’ve relied on in order to support everyone in the local community.
Jessica, who volunteers as the CEO on the Board of Directors at Blackberry Lane Pre-School in Cowes, said: “It was a busy time for everyone. All of the parents were extremely supportive and we as a Board and the staff of the preschool were extremely grateful.
“Looking back, the pandemic highlighted the socio-economic disparity in our area. But we did our best to make sure everyone had access to the support available.
“I hope we will continue to be aware, sensitive and compassionate as we move forward. We have to take a step back in order to understand individuals’ unique situations, then show compassion and kindness through your actions.”
As a mother of a three-year-old boy, Jessica is also acutely aware of the current climate crisis and feels we can all do our bit to keep talking about it with our employers and encouraging positive actions.
Jessica said: “Sustainability is on my mind every day, especially now that I am on the Board of Southern Co-op and work for an energy transition company. I have the privilege of seeing first-hand what both organisations are doing on the sustainability front.
“At the moment, I am impressed by the inroads that both companies are making. Should my comfort level move in the wrong direction, I would do my best within the role to advocate for change. If I saw no improvement, I would have to move on.
“I love the fact that, even before my first Southern Co-op Board meeting, we were shown the Decision-Making Compass which ensures that in all major decisions there is consideration given to the commitment to be a responsible and sustainable business.”
To find out more about Southern Co-op and how it works with its local communities, visit www.southernco-op.co.uk.