GroceryAid A thoroughly modern welfare organisation

GroceryAid, the charity for the whole UK grocery sector, including retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers and people working in support services to the industry, has seen considerable number of changes in structure and identity since its beginnings in the nineteenth century as the National Grocers’ Benevolent Fund.

Mandi Leonard, Welfare Director at GroceryAid speaks to The Grocery Trader.

With a commitment to supporting its beneficiaries’ wellbeing and mental health and fundraising via high profile activities such as the recent highly successful Barcode Festival, today’s GroceryAid is an industry charity built to address the needs of 21st century grocery people who are in difficulties. Yet it remains true to the original aims of its founders 161 years ago.

As Welfare Director of GroceryAid, Mandi Leonard oversees the charity’s welfare strategy and makes sure their services provide effective support for industry colleagues who have fallen on hard times and address the issues they face in today’s world.

The help that GroceryAid provides is timely and practical. Taking a recent example, they helped a number of Palmer & Harvey colleagues after the wholesaler went into administration late last year. The grants were supported by funds raised from a FWD fundraising dinner. A number of former P&H staff have also received help with outplacement coaching.

Reporting to Chief Executive Steve Barnes, Mandi Leonard signs off the majority of the welfare grants and sees most applications on a day-to-day basis. It’s a role she is very much at home in: “Before this job I spent sixteen years running a welfare charity for business to business sales reps, so I’m familiar with the sort of experiences and situations our beneficiaries face and the help they need.”

GroceryAid is one of around 120 occupational benevolent funds in the UK, all with broadly similar aims, but is unique in serving the grocery industry.

GroceryAid supported some 14,583 colleagues in the year April 2017/March 2018 with problems including physical or mental illness, relationship breakdown and redundancy. Mandi Leonard explains:

“We make relief payments for hardship and provide a support service underpinning them. There’s been a massive increase in the number of people we help that are of working age. More and more of us are living on stretched budgets even when in work. Wages haven’t gone up much in the last few years but rents continue to rise, along with transport and food costs.”

Mandi Leonard mentions a recent report revealing that 40% of people in the UK only have £100 or so in savings so it doesn’t take much for them to get pushed over the brink when things go wrong. Furthermore, some 55% of families in temporary accommodation are in working households.

In the past year GroceryAid have helped 3,600 beneficiaries financially, either with a crisis grant or longer-term help for those unable to work. The remainder of the support they provide is through the 24/7 helpline, which offers counselling, relationship support in conjunction with Relate and free advice on legal and financial problems, from budgetary advice to bankruptcy. On the financial side, GroceryAid are partners with Stepchange, the debt relief charity. Another growing area of GroceryAid’s work, which reflects developments in society generally, is mental health support:

“We provide online cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness programmes, again accessible through our helpline. We also offer traumatic incident support, providing counselling for store owners and staff who have been robbed or abused.”

GroceryAid also works with Renovo outplacement coaches to help people get back to work. In Mandi Leonard’s words, it’s an increasingly necessary service, as colleagues who have been with the same company for many years find applying for jobs very different now to what they remember.

Going forward, Mandi says retailers, wholesalers and suppliers can all do their bit to help by promoting awareness of GroceryAid through internal communications and letting people know what support is available. Individuals and companies can also help by getting involved in fundraising and sponsorship. There are eight regional fundraising branches, which arrange events locally, typically galas, race days and golf days and two networks, one Northern and one Southern. The Networks are made up of rising stars, the younger people in the industry, and their role is to raise awareness. All these groups are virtual, with people in the industry giving their time.

GroceryAid’s flagship fundraising event this year was July’s Barcode Festival, which raised £250,000, much more than expected and beating last year’s Summer Ball, which raised £180,000. The proceeds from Barcode Festival will go on business as usual, says Mandi Leonard. A typical counselling session costs £50; an average crisis payment is £750. And the story doesn’t stop there:

“Our ongoing costs are increasing and we’re not seeing a slowdown in demand. As long as businesses in the industry are helping raise awareness of us, we can go on helping people. We’re very well supported by the key players, but additional awareness means we will get the extra funds we need to do more.

“The supermarkets and their suppliers are fantastic supporters, but there’s more we need to do in raising awareness and looking at how we support people. Fundraising must accelerate, as more colleagues need our help than ever. The challenge is to come up with innovative events and for people to keep supporting us through events and sponsorship. We want everyone in the factory and on the shop floor to know we exist. There’s a good level of knowledge in boardrooms among people who have been around, but we need awareness on shop floors as well.”

See separate story in this issue about GroceryAid’s 2018 Impact Report.