What is it like to work at Co-op?

Third Sector Promotion Co-op

Rebecca Birkbeck, director of community and shared value, tells us about what it's like to work at Co-op and the member pioneer co-ordinator role she's recruiting for.

Rebecca Birkbeck, director of community and shared value, Co-op: “We tell our colleagues to be themselves, always”.
Rebecca Birkbeck, director of community and shared value, Co-op: “We tell our colleagues to be themselves, always”.

Looking for a rewarding charity role where you can truly give something back? As part of Third Sector Jobs’ Wonderful Workplaces initiative, Jennifer Jackson, senior careers content editor, spoke to Rebecca Birkbeck at Co-op, for insider insight into the organisation’s culture and the new member pioneer co-ordinator job vacancy.

Rebecca, tell me about Co-op and the work you do

Co-op has community in its DNA, flowing right back to the Rochdale Pioneers who were responsible for the ‘Co-operative Movement’, and it operates at the heart of communities across the UK. Being part of such a proud history and transforming it into an exciting future is both a huge pleasure and an important responsibility.

My role as director of community and shared value is to listen to our members and work with colleagues to deliver what matters most to them. We are an enabler. Through our Local Community Fund we support causes selected by our 4.5 million members, providing them with a voice and helping people to get together to make their local communities better.

In November last year we gave out over £19 million from our members to over 4,000 local causes, and by 2020 we expect to have shared over £100 million with communities across the UK. This gives you an idea of the scale of the community operation at Co-op, but it is not just about the money.

The first stage of our community strategy was launched in September 2016, and since then we’ve recruited over 300 member pioneers. These are people who work with our stores, local causes and members to help support and connect them to others in their local communities.

We are now introducing a new role - member pioneer co-ordinator - to manage, develop and support our teams of member pioneers, ensuring we can continue to grow our impact.

We’re constantly updating our strategy to make sure we stay relevant and respond effectively to national and local needs, especially in difficult times like we’re currently going through with Brexit. I’m looking forward to seeing the impact the new role has on improving communities’ wellbeing and making them happier and healthier places to live and work.

Tell me more about the new member pioneer co-ordinator role

Member pioneer co-ordinators have such an important role to play in our community mission. The successful candidates will be responsible for leading and coordinating a team of between 10 and 15 member pioneers. We’ve found that our pioneers really benefit from having someone to support them and help make sure the things they’re doing make the biggest impact possible, and that’s really what this job’s all about.

As a member pioneer co-ordinator you will coordinate the development and delivery of local plans, and encourage collaboration and mutual support between member pioneers in your communities. So you’ll make a massive difference by inspiring and supporting your team.

Apply now for the member pioneer co-ordinator role at Co-op

How do you see this person working with the Co-op teams in the community?

You will definitely need to build links with Co-op people in the communities in your region, such as colleagues in food stores and funeral homes, local council members, and partners from local causes.

A lot of the work member pioneer co-ordinators do will be about connecting member pioneers with people and groups, enabling them to do the amazing work we want them to do. But of course to make those connections you will need to know your region well, and be able to point your pioneers in the direction of the key people who can help them to make a difference.

What do you think would make a great member pioneer co-ordinator?

A great member pioneer co-ordinator is someone who’s as passionate about the wellbeing of their community as we are, and who can use that passion to inspire and motivate member pioneers to make a difference in their communities.

So much of what we do is digital these days, so it’s really important that our member pioneer coordinators are comfortable communicating and collaborating online.

Member pioneer co-ordinators will be great organisers – people who can pull a plan together and see it through to completion. They will know how to reach out to our members, coach and encourage people, and have a good basic grasp of technology. So much of what we do is digital these days, so it’s really important that our member pioneer co-ordinators are comfortable communicating and collaborating online.

What are the main challenges the successful candidates are likely to face in the role?

I think the main challenge will be supporting a team that’s spread out across a region. You won’t always have the chance to speak to your pioneers face to face, or get them together in one place for a team meeting. So you will have to think creatively, make good use of technology and manage your time well so you can give each pioneer the right amount of coaching and encouragement.

Why would someone want to work at Co-op?

There are lots of reasons Co-op is a great place to work. We’re a successful organisation with great benefits and an inclusive culture. But what’s really different about Co-op is that we’re more than just a business. We are a co-operative, owned by our members, which means we don’t just focus on profit. So the wellbeing of our members, customers, communities and colleagues is our priority, and we believe that a strong Co-op leads to a stronger community.

If you’re looking for a job where you can really give something back, then this could be the ideal opportunity for you.

Member pioneer co-ordinators are right at the heart of what makes us different. They help to make our commitment to communities a reality, so if you’re looking for a job where you can really give something back, then this could be the ideal opportunity for you.

What career development opportunities do you offer?

Co-op is a big, diverse organisation so there are often lots of opportunities to learn new things and maybe even take your career in directions you’d never thought of before.

But I think the great thing about the member pioneer co-ordinator role is that you get a real opportunity to shape the job and do it your way. You’ll link up with Co-op businesses, local causes and people in your communities, and that means there’s so much potential for new experiences that will help you grow both personally and professionally.

What advice would you offer applicants to help them stand out for the role?

At Co-op we tell our colleagues to be themselves, always. And I think that’s good advice for applicants. If you’ve got the passion and the skills we’re looking for that should really shine through, so be yourself and tell us how you think you could make a difference.

What do you think makes a ‘wonderful workplace’?

I think a wonderful workplace is somewhere people feel included and accepted, and as though the work they’re doing means something.

Co-op is committed to diversity and inclusion. We celebrate our differences here, so everyone is welcome provided they share our ethical values and commitment to co-operation and communities. And for people who are looking for meaningful work – well I can’t think of anything more fulfilling than giving something back to the place where you live.

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