December 24, 2013 9.10 am This story is over 125 months old

Reflections 2013: A memorable year for Co-op

Connecting members to causes: Lincolnshire Co-op CEO Ursula Lidbetter looks at how the society changed this year.

What makes co-ops different is that we’re owned by our members; in Lincolnshire Co-op’s case more than 228,000 local people.

We share our profits with our members whether that’s through dividend, new stores and improved services or, by supporting community groups and good causes in their communities.

2013 is a year I’ll always remember because we finally cracked something we’d been working on for years – directly connecting our members to those good causes.

Our Community Champions scheme launched in March. Through the dividend card, it links every member to a community group or charity near to where they live.

Every time they shop with us, a donation goes to that group. Members can find out who they’re supporting through a message on their till receipt or through a display in store, which also shows how much has been raised for the current group.

What I love is that Community Champions empowers our members. They can make a difference to groups that are doing good work right on their doorstep.

If a member has one cause particularly close to their heart, there’s even an option to support one group all year round.

So far, we’ve shared £148,000 between around 400 different groups and we’ve had great feedback.

From youngsters in Crowland who’ve got new games for their youth club to the members of Navenby Friendship Club who are enjoying a spot of indoor curling with the equipment they’ve been able to purchase, it’s having an impact.

Next time you’re in one of our outlets, have a look at your receipt or the display and see who your Community Champion is. And if you’re from a good cause or charity, go to our website and find out how your group could benefit.

On the commercial side of our business, I’ve been pleased to see growth with the opening of lots of new services including food stores, pharmacies and travel agencies. We’ve also invested in some of the ‘behind the scenes’ infrastructure – such as our food distribution centre and our own bakery Gadsby’s,

Our biggest challenges included cuts to income received from Government in pharmacy and post offices and the continuing difficult economic climate.

Consumers are being ever more careful with their money and cutting back on spending – it means that as a business you have to offer value, competitive offers and great customer service to ensure they support you. The efforts of my 2,800 colleagues have allowed us to do that and we recorded another strong result.

Follow all the columns from the Reflections 2013 series

Ursula Lidbetter is the Chief Executive of Lincolnshire Co-operative and the Chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership