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Business mix makes Lincolnshire Co-op resilient

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Community retailer Lincolnshire Co-op has recorded a solid trading result this year, despite pressures including substantially increased costs and the major impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on the travel industry.

The Society runs 223 outlets and has a diverse mix of businesses including food stores, pharmacies, funeral homes, post offices and travel branches.

In food stores, sales were up by 10 per cent to almost £230m as people stayed closer to home and shopped locally. The Society’s own bakers Gadsby’s and local producers stepped in when food shortages hit during March and April. And customers carried on buying local, with sales of the Love Local range up 23 per cent this year, worth £4.6m to the local economy.

Pharmacies dispensed 1.3 per cent more prescriptions, a total of 5.8m items, and saw demand for home delivery services increase.

Funeral homes supported families through the pandemic, guiding them through restrictions which limited the type of ceremony they could have.

More parcels were sent but post offices saw a drop in income as services like travel insurance and currency weren’t needed.

And in travel branches, sales dropped by £28.3m as cancellations and the impact of international travel restrictions and UK lockdowns hit.

Additional pressures during the year included increased infrastructure and PPE costs, rent concessions, pension costs and lower property valuations, which affects the value of Lincolnshire Co-op’s land and buildings.

Total sales in the 52-week year to 5th September 2020 were down 3.3% to £336m. Trading surplus remained in line with last year at £15.5m.

Lincolnshire Co-op’s Chief Executive Ursula Lidbetter said: “There is no doubt that the pandemic has had a profound impact on our business. But there is strength in diversity and our mix of outlets gives us resilience.

“The strong performance in our food stores has helped mitigate the huge industry-wide changes our travel branches have faced for example.

“We also have a long-term view. In the future, we know that people will want the security of booking with a trusted travel agent, where their money is secure, and the independent experts are on hand for support if things don’t go to plan.”

This year, Lincolnshire Co-op achieved Investors in People Platinum status which marks the Society out as a top employer. Schemes to reward the team during the pandemic have included two bonuses of an extra week’s wages and an award for all colleagues.

“My colleagues have all been outstanding,” said Ursula. “We have recorded a solid trading result because of them and I’m so thankful for their efforts and, of course, for the support of all our members and customers.”

Lincolnshire Co-op shares its profits locally in several ways, including by paying dividend to its 290,000 members. Extra dividend of £1.8m has been approved and will be paid onto dividend cards on Saturday 28th November, on top of the £2m of dividend members have already collected this year – a total of £3.8m.

The dividend bonus is being paid at the same rate – 85p per £1 of dividend collected during the year. But the total is smaller than last year’s £4.1m because less dividend was issued on purchases, mainly due to the lack of sales in travel.

Outlets opened in new trading areas including food stores in Sturton by Stow, Springfield Road in Grantham and Clipstone, near Mansfield as well as a chiropody branch in Lincoln. The project to revitalise Lincoln city centre with the Cornhill Quarter scheme also moved forward, with new tenants and a public square being unveiled.

In total, the Society spent £14m with contractors from the local area, building and maintaining its services.

The Community Champions fundraising scheme collected £468,256 for 315 good causes this year. Lockdown saw demand for mental health and domestic violence services rise so over £99,058 has gone towards groups tackling those issues.

Colleagues also set up a scheme to enable those isolating to access essential groceries and prescriptions, working with 110 community groups and linking them to food stores and pharmacies.

“I’ve been constantly amazed this year by what my team have achieved and what people have been doing to support their communities,” said Ursula. “We’re proud to come together with groups and organisations across our area to help us all through this incredibly difficult time.”

Lincolnshire Co-op is holding an online members' meeting on Thursday 10th December where you can hear more about the year and ask questions - find out more here.

You can also find the directors' report and accounts for the year here.

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