Every little helps: How supermarkets can protect local communities as tough times bite - RSA

Every little helps: How supermarkets can protect local communities as tough times bite

Press release

  • Social enterprise
  • Communities
  • Community engagement
  • Public services

Large supermarkets can help lessen the impact of lower living standards and cuts to local authority spending by becoming ‘community hubs’ through which customers can access public services, charities and other community groups, an RSA report has concluded.

Written in partnership with the ASDA supermarket chain, the report Shopping for Shared Value examined how retailers might engage in ‘community venturing’ – investing in staff locally in order to reach out beyond the store and tackle problems such as social isolation or poor public health.

View the Shopping for Shared Value report

Taking an in-depth look at Asda’s successful Community Life programme, the report found that Asda stores have provided free meeting space 23,000 times for local charities, community groups and for MP’s to meet with their constituents. With each Asda store benefiting from a Community Life Champion who spends 22.5 hours per week on the programme, the supermarket is well placed to help combat local community problems, the report found.

The report said that the footfall generated by supermarkets and other big box retailers represents a unique opportunity to tackle local community problems including engaging with hard to reach groups.

It concluded, however, that networks of large stores have under-used potential to become community hubs and that for these programmes become more successful:

  • Community ventures need to be co-designed with local communities, not dispensed centrally.  

  • Rather than expanding their charitable donations, demonstrating social value will mean ensuring that essential functions of the business must maximise their potential locally: the jobs offered, the products sold and the day-to-day operations of the store.

  • Local stores need the power and permission to experiment at the front line; but a retail business as a whole needs to ensure consistency and coherence across its operation.

Commenting on the research, Chief Executive of the RSA, Matthew Taylor, said:

“Community programmes developed by supermarkets should aim not just to do good but to be innovative, influential and develop good practice that other organisations can apply. Families, communities and public institutions are under great pressure and need help that is more enduring than a one-off treat or donation. It is encouraging to see that retailers such as Asda are already a long way down the road towards making local partnerships an integral part of their business strategy, both making substantive impact themselves, as well aqs driving improvement in policy.”

External Affairs Director and Chair of the Asda Foundation, Paul Kelly said: 

“Asda’s relationship with its customers and the communities in which they live are at the heart of our approach to business. Our customers shop with us because they trust us to provide quality products at fair prices. But they also know that projects such as the Asda Community Life Programme mean that we’re committed to doing our bit to help them through tough times. We want to see vibrant and healthy local communities, as this is not just good for local people - it’s good for business too.”

The report concluded that under the prolonged austerity of the coming decade, Asda and others in the retail sector are well placed to put David Cameron’s “moral capitalism” or Ed Miliband’s “responsible capitalism” into action. Based on six months of interviews and focus groups, alongside analysis of local data from retailers, the report suggested that initiatives such as Asda’s Community Life programme could be extended by: 

  • Enabling charities to recruit volunteers at busy store entrances;

  • Making space available in store for homework clubs and training courses.

  • Allowing quieter store car parks could be used for basketball, tennis or drive-in movies when they are less used in the evenings.

  • Support entrepreneurs launch their business through mentoring or brokering opportunities locally.

View the Shopping for Shared Value report

Notes to editors

  1. For more information contact RSA Head of Media Luke Robinson on 020 7451 6893 or 07799 737 970 or [email protected]

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