Reflections 2011: A legacy for the future

Ursula Lidbetter is the Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Co-operative


2011 was a year to remember for me in many ways. It was Lincolnshire Co-operative’s 150th birthday so we made sure we celebrated in style.

There was lots going on throughout the year. We marked our history by digitalising our archives, producing a history book and putting on an exhibition. We gave out more than 20,000 birthday cupcakes, made by our bakers Gadsby’s, and collected our members’ birthday wishes and reminiscences in a memory book. We also left a legacy for the future with the creation of a 10-acre co-operative wood on land near Dunholme.

No birthday would be complete without a party, and in September we put on the Big Birthday Bash at Lincolnshire Showground featuring Scouting for Girls, Lulu, G*Mania and a host of local acts. It was attended by thousands of people who also enjoyed a free fairground, a display of vintage vehicles and a huge fireworks display.

Out of all this, my highlight of the year was our official birthday, Friday August 19. On that day, we distributed the £500,000 Big Birthday Awards to 150 deserving community groups and good causes.

I went to a number of presentations myself and on each occasion, I was delighted to hear about the good work going on throughout our area – from community gardening projects and schemes which will preserve historic buildings to a new co-operative aiming to inspire people through arts and crafts.

It was also great to see the efforts that my colleagues made on our birthday. They dressed up in a range of costumes, from Victorian dress to 1970s punks, held raffles and competitions in their outlets and generally got into the spirit of the whole day.

In all our 150 years, 2011 was the first time we’d welcomed a serving prime minister to Lincolnshire Co-operative. David Cameron visited our pharmacy warehouse in Lincoln in May to hold a Q&A session with our colleagues. We took the chance to ask Mr Cameron questions on the issues that matter to our staff and our 205,000 members, such as the cost of fuel, sports provision in Lincolnshire and the future of rural post offices.

There have been lots of high points, and though my memories of 2011 will be positive, it’s not been an easy year by any means.

Every business had to work extra hard to mitigate the impact of the worldwide recession and Lincolnshire Co-operative is no exception. To maintain our profitable performance and see a sales growth in 2011 is a great achievement and it’s down to our strong mix of businesses, the efforts of our staff and also, the support of our loyal members and customers.

Despite the difficult trading conditions, this year has seen steps forward for local businesses. The Greater Lincolnshire’s Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which I chair, has seen steady progress on our key priority of infrastructure.

This has included securing £14.3 million of government funding to improve broadband speeds across Lincolnshire and a long-awaited commitment to the Eastern Bypass. As we move forward the LEP will start to focus on specific sectors such as tourism, engineering and agrifood. We hope to have more good news in coming months.

At Lincolnshire Co-operative, we’ve also got plenty to look forward to in 2012. It’s the United Nations International Year of the Co-operative and we’ve got plans to mark the Queen’s Jubilee. Of course, we’ll also be flying the flag on October 1st, Lincolnshire Day.