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  • Iain Corbett

How supermarkets can be an exciting new hub for community outreach

As we roll out our Essential Mix project across the nation the need to be flexible, adaptable and malleable becomes increasingly evident. Where in London we have focused on increasing interactions between passengers and bus drivers to improve connections and experiences, and have worked with Law Enforcement Teams to strengthen relationships with local residents, in Glasgow things look a little different. You see, in Scotland, we talk! Of course people in London talk too, but in Glasgow we talk to EVERYONE! We talk to our bus drivers, we talk to our enforcement officers, we talk to strangers at bus stops, people in queues and folk walking by in the street. Everyone is a friend until proven otherwise and we talk to them. We talk about the weather, we talk about current affairs, we talk about tv and music and politics and holidays and, if you’re feeling brave, we talk about football.

So what does this mean for Essential Mix?

Initially we explored a number of ways we hypothesised could increase connection between members of the public and the essential workers in supermarkets: chatty tills where cashiers could take a little longer to engage with the customer, chatty benches where store colleagues could take 10 minutes to just chew the fat with whoever was sat there at the time or dedicated tables in in-store cafe’s where customers and the key workers could connect over a cuppa.

During our research and observation phase, we realised that, in most cases, this was already happening. Like I said, we talk. In partnership with the wonderful Community Champions at Tesco Maryhill and Tesco Port Glasgow we explored how we could embrace the chatty disposition of the locals to make these interactions just a little more meaningful.

Given their community focused roles, the Community Champs were keen to include as much of the wider community as possible, using the store as a vehicle to create more connections between the colleagues, the customers and a variety of community organisations operating locally to support people in and around the stores vicinity. So, after sign off from the ever supportive team at the National Lottery Communities Fund, that's exactly what we did.

Over three weeks we hosted a number of Community Pop-Ups - small events which saw local community focused orgs come into the store and engage with the customers who were already there, essentially ‘switching on’ the store as a place of information, resource and connection.

The series of events hosted a wide range organisations offering an even wider range of services to help support people in and around the Tesco locale. Organisations such as MindMosaic and Life Link highlighted the open access counselling services available, ManOn! Inverclyde and the You Decide Team offer crisis intervention and suicide prevention. Glasgow Helps offering a wide range of services from debt advice to housing support, Rig Arts offering arts and craft, HomeStart offering early years support, Maryhill Burgh Halls providing a number of local activity groups and exhibitions, G20 Youth Festival offering a wrap around youth provision and Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland offering free health checks and active lifestyle activities. The selection was vast, and the people came.

The events attracted over 500 individual engagements, with customers feeding back how positive it was to be able to connect with a service without the anxiety attached to initially reaching out. Many customers highlighted the need for this kind of engagement and that it should be more commonplace, with several suggesting “this should be regular - every week would be great”. The organisations involved were hugely positive, reflecting that not only was it a great way to interact with new service users but also a great chance to network with other organisations they had not previously had the chance to connect with. One organisation fed back that it was great to see the pop-up events “normalising the need and the access of services in everyday spaces - informal, as it should be” with another commenting the events “hugely improved outreach for an organisation that doesn’t have the opportunity to connect with local people often.”

Importantly, not only could the customers connect with the organisations, store colleagues were encouraged to, too. A number of colleagues engaged to upskill themselves on the organisations operating locally, both in case they or theirs should need the services, but also so that they can better support the customers who we know they already talk to - the hope being that now if Mrs Smith mentions that she has money worries, a store colleague can advise they contact Glasgow Helps or if Mr Doe is feeling down that he knows ManOn! are there to support. The stores are already a hub in the community, so we are keen they become a pillar of the community.

So what next? Best guess is we will talk some more.

With the Community Champions we are exploring whether we can dedicate a space in store for these pop-ups to become more common. What if we had a place, in store, where people can come and talk, and connect, and be? A place where you can access services, be part of activities and simply exist without the expectation of spending. We know people come in stores because they need to, so what if we bring more of what they need, to them?

Watch this space for more updates!



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