Ursula Lidbetter

Lincolnshire Co-op CEO

Ursula Lidbetter is the chief executive of the Lincolnshire Co-op and chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

This has been a year like no other. We’ve all been challenged personally and professionally, learned more about ourselves and had a chance to re-evaluate our priorities.

The pandemic has changed us as individuals, and it’s changed society. It’s caused us to reflect on what’s important to us, to our families, our communities and to the world.

I think people have reconnected with their local area and there’s a great opportunity to build on that engagement and work together in 2021.

For example, our Love Local suppliers stepped up when food shortages hit earlier this year, keeping our shelves stocked with essentials like meat, fish, cheese, bread and eggs.

In turn, when hospitality venues shut, many of our producers lost vital income. So, we took on extra products to help, including butter bound for farmers’ markets and crisps poised to be sent to pubs.

Even when the supply chain returned to normal, our customers continued to buy the local products they’d come to love. Sales of the range are up 23% this year, worth £4.6 million to the local economy.

The community effort during the early stages of lockdown is also something that endures.

We worked with the Lincolnshire Resilience Forum to identify 110 community groups and voluntary organisations helping the effort. We linked each group to one of our food stores and pharmacies. Volunteers were given passes so they could access essential groceries and pick up prescriptions for those isolating. In some places, we connected volunteers together so they could form a new support network.

The stories from these groups are inspiring and we’re helping many of them to continue their good work, from setting up food banks to befriending groups.

We’ve piloted a new scheme this year which sees Community Co-ordinators employed to focus on making connections in their local area. The team have already worked on some exciting projects – such as bringing together representatives from 27 food banks and community larders to share ideas, build relationships and talk about long-term support. I’m excited to see how this will develop in 2021 and what our communities need.

There’s much to learn from this year. At Lincolnshire Co-op, we will continue to listen and collaborate with others to help make life better in our communities.

If 2020 were a brand, what would its tag line be?

There’s power in working together.

Ursula Lidbetter is the chief executive of the Lincolnshire Co-op and chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Reflecting on the past year is always a chance to check in on how your business is doing and look beyond profit and loss. Are you delivering your purpose? Are you meeting challenges? Are you proud of what you’ve achieved?

At Lincolnshire Co-op, we try to bring together ideas, energy and resources to make life better in our communities.

One way we do that is to provide and support valued services. And in 2017, I attended the opening of our hub in Holbeach which does just that. We relocated our pharmacy, post office and the volunteer-run library to purpose-built space on our food store site, making better use of a large area and providing convenient access to these needed services.

Delivering this £1.2 million scheme was one of my highlights of the year. It was wonderful to speak to residents and our dedicated library volunteers to hear how our support for the town had made a difference.

Over 2,500 people regularly take part in health walks across our area. I donned my walking boots to take part in one in September and loved the experience – it reminded me how beneficial getting out into the fresh air can be! I’m sure that’s something we can all look to do more of in 2018.

These walks are a great place to get some gentle exercise and meet new people. At Lincolnshire Co-op, we want to care for our community’s health and wellbeing so we came forward to support the network when it was set to lose funding earlier this year.

We have more than 280,000 members so our dividend card is something lots of people have in common!

This year we released a brand-new card, as well as an app and a key ring fob to make it even easier for our members to collect and redeem dividend; their share of their businesses’ profits. We’ve come a long way since tallies in account books or stick in stamps.

Of course, there are always challenges to be faced in any business.

To be successful, enabling us to provide valued services and support the community, we need to build strength for the long term. It means meeting challenges such as the highly competitive food retail environment head on and taking tough decisions.

This year, we fully joined the national co-operative distribution network and shut our two food distribution centres in Lincoln to enable us to be more efficient and offer customers more choice. I can only thank the colleagues involved for their efforts and professionalism.

We also saw significant cuts to pharmacy income by government this year. We know how important community pharmacies are to patients and the vital role they perform in the NHS. We continue to make strong representations on this issue.

2018 will see Cosy Club open in The Corn Exchange building in our flagship scheme, Lincoln’s Cornhill Quarter, together with lots more improvement we’re making in the area. It’s pleasing to see shoppers taking it all in when they stroll through this part of the city centre – we’ve talked about it for a long time, and this year was when it became a reality for many people.

From fighting cyber-crime and developing software to disease resistance in poultry, the Lincoln Science and Innovation Park is bringing lots of different fields together. The opening of the Boole Technology Centre earlier this year was a milestone.

We’re partners in this project with the University of Lincoln and I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of this facility as it develops, helping boost the economy of our county and addressing issues including talent retention and new business growth.

Together with our hard-working colleagues, members, customers, suppliers and all the groups we work with, I’m proud of all that Lincolnshire Co-op has achieved this year. I’m sure 2018 will be one to remember too.

Ursula Lidbetter is the chief executive of the Lincolnshire Co-op and chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

There’s been lots for Lincolnshire Co-op to celebrate in 2016. What’s made me most proud is the variety of our achievements – from seeing a multi-million pound regeneration project taking shape to offering health advice from an inflatable marquee.

What unites everything is our co-operative ethos. All our profits are shared with our members and their communities. Whenever we embark on a new project we ask, ‘What would our members want?’

One of my biggest moments was seeing our investment in the Cornhill Quarter in Lincoln coming to fruition. The removal of the modern extensions from the Corn Exchange was special – suddenly the building was revealed in all its glory.

Our Community Health Pod attracts interest wherever it goes. The five-metre high inflatable structure toured 17 locations, giving out more than 600 free health checks and 1,000 body mass index assessments.

It’s been fantastic to see its success. The health pod enables our team to make a difference to local people by offering them expert advice. It also highlights what a valuable resource our pharmacies are.

One of the biggest challenges in 2016 was the government’s proposed cuts to community pharmacy funding and changes to the service. We were hugely concerned and our members and patients rallied alongside us, signing the national petition against the proposals which gathered more than two million signatures across the country.

The proposals have been modified, mitigating some of the more drastic ideas, which would have changed community pharmacy forever. Serious funding cuts remain so we’ll continue to make strong representations on this issue to local MPs and campaigning bodies – we know it’s what our members want us to do.

Changing shopping habits are a challenge every retailer has to meet. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a real shift. Many people don’t want to spend hours doing a big shop every week. They can shop online for bulky items and essentials, they can visit the discounters. They want to reduce waste and pick up what they need when they need it.

We’ve met this challenge and have undertaken a massive review of our range in food stores. We offer a lot more chilled food, especially food-to-go and meal options, plus other services like an in-store bakery.

All our businesses – food stores, pharmacies, post offices, travel branches, funeral homes – played a part in our strong trading year. And it meant we were able to pay our members a total of £3.5m in dividend and dividend bonus.

The dividend is always a highlight for me because it’s at the very heart of what we do. Our members own the business and it’s their personal share of the profits.

This year we’ve also introduced something new. Members can sign in to our website and access exciting offers and exclusive discounts from other local businesses, attractions and places to eat. It’s all about giving our members more – something we’ll carry on doing in 2017 and beyond.

Ursula Lidbetter is the chief executive of the Lincolnshire Co-op and chair of the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership.