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Resilient Co-op maintains trading performance

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Community retailer Lincolnshire Co-op has recorded a positive trading year, with its varied mix of businesses helping it stay resilient during the ongoing challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The society has also collaborated locally on major initiatives, including the Covid-19 vaccination programme and the creation of Lincolnshire’s first food redistribution hub, a project diverting food surplus to those in need.

Overall sales rose 5.8 per cent to £355m in the 2020/21 financial year (ending September 4th 2021) with food sales continuing to grow, going up by 4.8%.

Food stores feature the Love Local range, sourced from 45 producers from the area, and sales were worth £3.3m.

In pharmacies, the expert teams dispensed 5.7m prescriptions and provided a host of other NHS services, including issuing lateral flow test kits.

Two Covid-19 vaccination centres were set up in Newland Pharmacy in Lincoln and Parkside Pharmacy in Boston. During the year, 11,361 vaccines were administered by the team. Pharmacists also provided their expertise at mobile vaccination clinics and the Lincolnshire Showground vaccination centre.

Funeral home and crematorium colleagues supported families through the challenges of Covid, sensitively managing the restrictions on services.

The society’s travel branches bore the brunt of the pandemic’s effect on the business but, after a hugely busy period of cancellations and rearrangements, customer numbers are increasing with many travellers wanting the expertise and security of booking with a travel agent.

To keep investment in the area and boost the economy, Lincolnshire Co-op works with local contractors and suppliers on capital projects. This year, these have included new food stores in Keelby, near Grimsby and Whittlesey, in Cambridgeshire, as well as property developments such as the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park and the city’s Cornhill Quarter. £10m was spent with local businesses on capital projects this year.

Two lockdowns and regularly changing restrictions meant all Lincolnshire Co-op’s 2,870 colleagues faced new challenges. In April, each one was given a Colleague of the Year award and £50 to treat themselves. It was part of an ongoing programme of support to say thank you, including over a week and a half’s extra wages in bonuses.

Employability programmes were offered to young people through the Kickstart scheme and the Get Into Retail initiative, delivered in partnership with charity The Prince’s Trust. The two projects led to 41 people finding work with Lincolnshire Co-op.

Trading surplus recovered to £18.2m as operations stabilised following the intense activity of the initial phases of the pandemic last year. The surplus enables Lincolnshire Co-op to invest in community support and member benefits.

£1.9m dividend has been paid out to Lincolnshire Co-op members this year. Members attending the Society’s annual members' meetings in November and December will be asked to approve a bonus of 85p per £1 collected during the year, a further £1.6m.

This year, the society appointed its first Chair, David Cowell. It is also currently running a Board of Directors election, which includes online voting for the first time.

The Society’s Community Champions fundraising scheme raised £648,684 for 586 local charities and community groups, including for defibrillators and first responder charities. Through the scheme, a record-breaking total of £221,275 was raised for more than 190 school breakfast clubs. The total guarantees funding for all participating clubs for the next three years.

Lincolnshire’s first food redistribution hub, a pioneering project which will divert surplus food to organisations fighting food poverty, was set up in Lincoln by charity FareShare East Midlands this year, supported by Lincolnshire Co-op, the Lincolnshire Community Foundation and the Lincolnshire Food Partnership.

Unsold products are collected from suppliers and retailers, including 21 Lincolnshire Co-op food stores. They are taken to the hub in Lincoln and shared between organisations – like food banks and community cafes – that use it to support people in need in Lincoln, East Lindsey and North East Lincolnshire.

Lincolnshire Co-op’s Chief Executive Ursula Lidbetter said: “The pandemic has continued to influence every part of our business over the past year. But by working together – that’s our colleagues, members, community groups and charities, suppliers, and our partners in the private and public sector – we’ve been able to respond.

“From helping to deliver the national NHS Covid-19 vaccination programme to providing employment opportunities and supporting groups tackling food poverty, I’m proud of what we’ve achieved.

“To enable us to play our part in making life better in our communities, it’s important we are a successful business. We’ve had a positive trading year, with our array of different businesses meaning we have been able to mitigate some of the pandemic’s impact.

“My colleagues have also continued their outstanding efforts to provide our valued services to local communities and I thank them all.”

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