Nominate your community heroes and win a £25 Co-op voucher

Oli Watts in the Christmas spirit at one of the East of England Co-op stores last year Picture: Angl

Oli Watts in the Christmas spirit at one of the East of England Co-op stores last year Picture: Anglia Picture Agency/Ashley Pickering - Credit: Ashley Pickering/Anglia Picture

Fair products at a fair price, community spirit and member rewards - these were the foundation stones of the Co-op and 150 years on they are still going strong as the East of England Co-operative Society celebrates 150 years in business.

The Ipswich Co-operative Society, date unknown Picture: East of England Co-op

The Ipswich Co-operative Society, date unknown Picture: East of England Co-op - Credit: East of England Co-op

And now, as they markt heir landmark anniversary, the society is looking to honour Suffolk's community heroes and reward them with funding to support their projects that help others.

Plus those who nominate could win a £25 voucher to spend in store.

History of the East of England Co-operative Society

It was a business model like no other. As the UK economy reforged itself after a series of political and industrial upheavals, a group of philanthropic businessmen joined forces to provide solutions for a growing population in poverty.

At Felixstowe Ice Rink last year, Lynn Warner, Community Events Manager, Amy Stagg, Community Engage

At Felixstowe Ice Rink last year, Lynn Warner, Community Events Manager, Amy Stagg, Community Engagement Manager and Sharon Harkin, Community Engagement Manager Picture: Rob Howarth - Credit: Rob Howarth

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One hundred and fifty years ago, the local co-ops that would later form the East of England Co-operative Society were establishing themselves across the region, with the aim of doing business with social responsibility.

As the nation prospered off the back of the industrial revolution, an underclass of workers, with no benefits system and no free health service, struggled to survive.

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The core of co-operation was based on the so-called 'Co-operative Principles', established 25 years earlier by the Rochdale, advocating voluntary and open membership; anti-discrimination; motivations and rewards; democratic member control; and member economic participation.

Community Heroes logo

Community Heroes logo - Credit: Archant

The principle lives on

At the heart of the project was community – and that principle lives on today as the East of England Co-operative Society, now with more than 250,000 members, celebrates its 150th anniversary with a series of community-based initiatives, including the 'Heroes' project featured in this newspaper over recent weeks.

'We were founded with a different way of doing business – and it must work because this year we're celebrating our 150th anniversary,' explains Oli Watts, the society's head of communications and community.

'The idea is to support our community with fair products at a fair price, for example, by stocking locally-produced food and drink, also by funding projects through our tokens scheme, which is to be extended to the funeral service arm in the new year.

'These initiatives go to the core of who we are as a business – especially at Christmas, which always provides a good excuse to talk about community.'

A package of work to back communities, including lights switch-ons and fairs, as well as support for local food banks and help with the perennial problem of loneliness demonstrates the commitment.

The Co-op is supporting at least two dozen events over Christmas this year across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.

'It all helps to demonstrate what Christmas is all about – communities coming together,' says Oli. And that happens, he adds, because people are at the heart of communities.

'We get hundreds of requests for support throughout the year and what I find inspiring is that the people involved in these various projects are themselves not out of the ordinary – apart from the fact that they want to stand up and help someone else, and a lot of the ideas they bring to us feel like things that we would want to help with,' says Oli.

'These are the heroes of our community, and we want to celebrate them.'

Nominate your heroes

Which is why the East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star have teamed up with the East of England Co-op to launch the Community Heroes campaign, focusing on the efforts of people making a real difference to other people's lives.

These include the Jam Community Pot, which helps isolated and vulnerable people in the Stowmarket area, BASIC Life, a charity providing pop-up food shops as an alternative to food banks in Felixstowe, and the community interest company Wellies On, which invites potentially vulnerable groups to interact with farm animals near Colchester.

All these schemes have received funding from the Co-op to support their work.

Now readers and East of England Co-op shoppers and members can celebrate their own community heroes by nominating them online. If you have a stand-out champion of your community, let us know – and there's a chance to win a £25 voucher to spend in-store.

'It all comes back to the core of our business,' says Oli. 'Unlike other supermarkets, we operate under a set of principles, which makes us different. We do things to uphold these principles because it's the right thing to do.

'From the board of directors to colleagues in our stores and other businesses across East Anglia, we live these principles. It's just what we do.'

Get involved

Tell us about your community hero – just email with contact details and up to 200 words about what your nominated hero does. The best stories will win a £25 store voucher from the East of England Co-op to treat yourself and your hero to something special this Christmas.