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We caught up with Deb Worzencraft who works for the Co-op, co-ordinating Co-op’s Member Pioneers in Llandudno Junction and Deganwy. Co-op’s Member Pioneers bring together its Members, colleagues and Local Causes to help its communities.
Deb explained how she joined the Co-op.
“I went to uni as a mature student, but I studied countryside management. As part of that, we were working with communities, resolving conflict in the countryside, and it was that side of it that I really took to,” she said.
“From there, I worked with a local environmental campaigning group. I’ve worked with local credit unions. I have worked with community transport schemes, all based in the communities, so when the job came up at the Co-op, it just combined all of those community things together. It was like a dream role!”
She added: “For the past nine years, that’s what I’ve been doing, working and developing the community side of the Co-op.”
Deb explained what it meant to be a Member Pioneer and how they benefit communities.
“Member Pioneers are Co-op Members,” she said.
“They can be colleagues or Members of the community. Their role is to be our eyes and ears on the ground, so they liaise between their local community and what we do as a Co-op.
“We work very closely with them, so I’ve got a team in north west Wales and a team in north east Wales. They create local action plans that help us deliver our national priorities at a local level and we always plan that three months in advance. They work very closely with the Local Community Fund recipients, which are Local Causes that are supported by the local Co-op Members. They can be charities or local community groups. They can be food banks.”
Since March when the pandemic hit, Deb explained, like much of the UK, the Member Pioneers have had to change their way of working. But the virus and restrictions haven’t stopped the Member Pioneers helping their communities.
“Obviously, during COVID, it’s been very different. But they’ve all been working in very different ways,” she said.
“Member Pioneers have been collecting shopping or medication for people and helping the COVID-19 groups with online support. We had a Member Pioneer working in the Old Colwyn area, and she was ringing numerous people every week. And she’s carried on doing that to be honest because that’s the type of person we get, people who are ingrained in their local community.
“Member Pioneers bring people together. They also signpost communities to helplines. We’ve got an online cooperation platform: Co-operate, and any community group can put their details into that. It’s a mine of information. You can find details of where you can find your Member Pioneer, where you can find your Co-op Local Community Fund Recipients, where your stores are and who’s doing what in the community. It’s amazing. I would recommend anyone to go and have a look on there.”
The Co-op Local Community Fund supports projects across the UK that Members care about. Every time Co-op Members buy selected Co-op branded products and services, Co-op gives local causes a helping hand by donating a 2p from every pound spent.
A new Member Pioneer is set to start work in Deganwy and Llandudno Junction in the New Year. But what makes a good Member Pioneer?
“Somebody who has got a passion for their local community, somebody who has got good community links, who is a good communicator – because sixteen hours a month doesn’t give you a lot of time. We want Member Pioneers to spend that time digging down in their communities where the need is, bringing those people together,” said Deb.
“We have three missions of our Community Action Plan that the Member Pioneers support on a local level with – fairer access to food, fairer access to mental wellbeing and fairer access to education and employment for young people. Member Pioneers connect communities together so the community is able to help itself, which is one of the Co-op ethics.”
She added: “You will notice that every one of our Local Community Fund recipients will be under one or more of those pillars.”
And what’s Deb’s favourite part of her job?
“Getting out and meeting up with my Member Pioneers, which obviously, over the past nine months, has been really difficult,” she said.
“So, we’ve done everything online, but it’s not the same as getting out and meeting people.
“We ask the Member Pioneers to give us a breakdown of what they have been doing every month and examples of the difference they’ve made in the community that month.
“When you hear those stories, you think, ‘this is why I’m doing this job’. It’s incredible, and it doesn’t have to be the big ground-breaking stuff.
“I was talking to one of our Member Pioneers over in Llangollen. She’s a beekeeper. I said can’t we give some of your spare jars of honey to the local foodbank, so she did that, and they accepted very gladly. The Member Pioneers are worth their weight in gold.”
Deb added: “People don’t realise the impact the Co-op has in the local community and the projects that we do on a national basis as well. Our Member Pioneers are there on the ground. We have 1,000 Member Pioneers across the UK, working with our Funeralcare and being the link, as it were, between the Co-op and the local community.”
To find out more about Co-op's Member Pioneers, and how you can cooperate with them in your community, follow the link here.
When Co-op Members buy own-brand products and services, 2p for every £1 spent goes to support local causes and community organisations. To find out more about Membership, visit here
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