How Teamwork and Fundraising helped this Co-op store through the pandemic
The Co-op Food store in Hornchurch, Romford scooped our second monthly prize after impressing the judges with a story of triumph over adversity in their local area. Manager Claire Saunders explains how teamwork turned one of their toughest years into an incredible force for good in the local community.
How would you describe the impact of lockdown at the start of the pandemic?
We were going through the same challenges as everyone else, however, we unfortunately also experienced a rise in anti-social behaviour at our store. We were targeted by a gang, and there was an increase in shoplifting and abuse which was very difficult to deal with, along with the bigger problems that COVID gave us.
How did you deal with that?
First and foremost we worked as a team. Without the team, we wouldn’t have been able to cope, but I was so proud to see that everyone was there for each other to provide emotional and physical support whenever it was needed. During COVID every individual was dealing with a different set of personal circumstances when it came to their family and health, but we all pulled together which made a huge difference.
During such a difficult time, why did your thoughts turn to do something good for the local community?
My approach is to always stay positive, no matter what. Don’t let negative things get in the way of what you want to achieve, which for us has always been about being a valuable hub for our community. We could see during the pandemic that more and more local families were struggling to clothe their children, and that included working families who were in real need. That’s where the idea of a clothing bank came from, creating something similar to a food bank, to recycle and redistribute donated clothing between families.
Tell us about the charity you set up?
It’s a community interest not for profit initiative called The Baby Bank HQ. In 2019 we had run a few smaller projects for certain causes in our community, for example, an early campaign to donate 200 coats to a local women’s refuge. When the pandemic hit, we made it an official charity: The Baby Bank HQ. Our mission is to provide children’s clothes, toiletries and basic necessities up to primary school age, helping families in need across the London Boroughs of Barking, Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge and Thurrock. Distribution is done through local partners, referrals, children’s centres, community hubs and other professional services working with vulnerable families.
How have your customers responded to the idea?
They love it and more importantly, they’ve really got behind the cause. Our customers could see that it was a simple idea that would make a positive difference in our community. The service also quickly spread to other Co-op branches and we haven’t stopped since. It was inspiring to see how many families were happy to reach out and help one other.
Tell us what’s happening at the charity now?
What’s happened with the charity since we started is beyond my wildest dreams! It’s even spreading out with the Co-op and Tesco are now on board which is incredible. I think it’s a great example of what can be achieved by the power of teamwork and local communities pulling together. There are 700,000 children living in poverty in London, and the lockdown has had a really negative impact on many of them. We want to continue to do what we can to help.
What did it mean to be recognised by the Proud of My Store campaign?
We were completely overwhelmed when we found out we’d won! Despite all the difficulties, our amazing team continued to provide fantastic customer service, always with a smile, and I was thrilled to see them recognised and rewarded for all their efforts. It feeds into that positive team spirit which is what spurs us on to keep making a difference.
To find out more about Claire’s work and the charity go to https://www.thebabybankhq.org/