Girton village website

Focus on the Co-operative Store

Most Girtonians have visited the Co-operative store on Cambridge Road, whether it is for a spot of "top-up" shopping or for a more extensive family "stock up". Some villagers rely on it for almost all their grocery needs, and many passing by on their way elsewhere call in for their pint of milk, fresh fruit, paper or lottery ticket. But how many of us think about why the store is there, who keeps it open at (almost) all hours, and what it represents?

The Co-operative movement is deeply embedded in British social history, from the foundation of the modern movement with the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in 1844 with their Toad Lane shop. Many local co-operative societies and large-scale manufacturing and commercial operations followed over more than a century. By the late 20th century, the co-operative model was under challenge from many directions, particularly the large supermarket groups and a corporate raider, but it has revived strongly.

Today the Co-operative movement is the nation's largest mutual business, owned by its 6 million-plus members. It is a major grocery retailer (currently 6th in the UK, just behind Marks and Spencer, just ahead of Waitrose), a leading and growing financial institution (banking, insurance and building societies), the nation's largest farmer, and is active in many other fields as diverse as travel and funeral services. It is currently preparing an original initiative in the provision of legal services at local levels.

Alongside the commercial goals, social objectives have always been important to the Co-operative movement. These have evolved over the years, but presently include a concern for community both locally and internationally, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, as well as the quality and integrity of its products and business practices. In short, its goal is to be the most socially responsible business in the UK. Its stated aim is to be "Here for you for life".

But what of the Co-operative in Girton? A Co-operative grocery store has existed on the Cambridge Road certainly for more than forty years. In 2002 the Co-operative group took over Alldays - thus moving the group to the top spot of UK convenience stores. The adjoining house (now Lyndsey McDermott beauty salon) was previously the store manager's residence. The Girton shop is typical of many of the 4000-plus stores in the group, which range from traditional village shops to megastores. Organisationally it is part of the Co-operative Foods group, centred on the movement's headquarters in Manchester, and managed as part of the Central and Eastern Region. The village store has been adapted to the standard Co-operative Foods format and reflects the group's design and marketing strategies found in all the 14 shops around Cambridge, although marketing plans are modified locally to meet village purchasing patterns.

Like all Co-operative stores, the Girton shop aims to be a community shop at the heart of the village activities. It is open seven days a week, from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm. It carries a wide range of grocery goods competitively priced, has a well-stocked off-licence, sells National Lottery tickets, and provides facilities for Pay Point and mobile phone top-ups. It has its own in-store mini-bakery (operated every day from opening time to early afternoon by three trained staff) and displays a colourful range of flowers and plants throughout the year. At present there is no home delivery service - but maybe that is one for the future and its core customers would no doubt welcome it. The clientele varies considerably throughout the day: early morning commuters picking up their paper, mums popping in after dropping off the kids at the Glebe, office workers needing a lunchtime sandwich and a soft drink, older residents stocking up a big basket of provisions, or students grabbing their traditional sustenance for evening or all-night study. All have different needs, and the Co-operative tailors its offerings to meet them all.

But social values are especially central for the Co-operative movement - whether for consumers or suppliers. The wide range of vegetables and fruit is the first thing that takes your attention when you enter the store. Promoting healthy eating is a central Co-operative objective, and this product range is constantly being enlarged and improved. Customers can be sure that Co-operative fresh meat is rigorously sourced, most of it from a supply chain ("Farm to fork") that is totally controlled in-house. The Fairtrade movement is strongly supported by the Co-operative in many ways, so (for example) you always have a choice of bananas or coffee or chocolate from responsibly farmed sources with fairly paid suppliers.

Contribution to communities is another Co-operative value that is energetically pursued. The store supports village activities such as the Feast and the Fun Run with refreshments. It encourages visits from our pre-school and nursery children to learn about their food and its sources. It currently is seeking to extend its "Green Schools" initiative to the Girton Glebe School, so that pupils can learn how their food is produced and how to eat healthily. Elderly customers appreciate the help given by staff in selecting and collecting their weekly shopping, and there are many who use the Co-operative for their "big shop" of the week, thus avoiding the expensive trek off to a distant superstore. Every week over 5000 people shop at the Girton store, and residents will be heartened to learn that it is solidly viable and here to stay. Since the loss of the Girton Sub-Post Office shop, there has been a significant increase in turnover at the store, so it is clear that many Girton people wish to shop for their groceries in Girton.

Providing all these services is a staff of 16, six of whom live in the village. They are led by store manager Rik Vassallo, a retail industry veteran who has managed two other Co-operative stores in the Cambridge region - although he originally trained as a military musician. He is assisted by team manager Vicky Krykunivski and a very diverse team of keen part-timers, several of who plan a career in retail. Some are local mums fitting work into taking the kids to and from school while others include students working evenings around their studies. But all are very focused on customer service, and you can be sure of help with your shopping and a smile at the checkout.

Your reporter has been a co-operator all his life. He remembers collecting the "divi" stamps as a small boy aged seven (a savings stamp scheme has just been revived), and still calls in most weeks to pick up the shopping items needed to keep the household running and to use his loyalty card. Now that the Co-operative is the only significant grocery store in the village, it is all the more important that we keep it thriving and open - even at almost all hours.

John Berridge

"Focus on Girton" is a series of occasional articles on the organisations of Girton. Articles are written independently by members of the editorial team of the Girton Parish News with the consent and cooperation of the organisation concerned. The selection of organisations featured is entirely at the discretion of the editorial team. The articles do not in themselves represent an endorsement of the aims or activities of organisations. No link exists between the publication of an article and any paid advertising in the Girton Parish News, whether in the same issue or more generally. The article may also be found on the Girton Parish website at www.girton-cambs.org.uk.