Central England Co-Operative

A customised programme for managers in retail

With more than 400 outlets across 16 counties, Central England Co-operative is one of the biggest independent retailers in the UK. From food stores, funeral homes and florists to post offices, travel branches and crematoriums, they offer it all.

Their aim? To be the UK’s best consumer co-operative by making a real difference to its members and communities.

The issue

Central England Co-operative have always understood the importance of mental health in the workplace. They signed the Time to Change Pledge back in 2016 and they train many of their employees in Mental Health First Aid. But, they knew all this was only part of a broader strategic solution.

They wanted to do more to drive change at a structural and cultural level, whilst equipping line managers across their organisation with the practical skills needed to make it happen.

The answer

Being a line manager in a retail environment can be tricky; especially with the various aspects and functions of Central England Co-operative’s set-up. From the outset, we knew customisation was the key to maximising learning and uptake.

To combat the problem, we set our sights on creating a programme designed specifically for line managers that addressed the need for mental health awareness and the skills needed to effectively manage it – like embodying open conversations. 

Before we could do that though, we needed, and wanted, to take a step back and conduct some thorough research with those on the front line.

The solution

It was important to us to make sure all the content in our workshops was uniquely tailored towards each function of the organisation. To do that we wanted to adapt the language and scenarios used to generate discussions and learning, so, we started by speaking to key stakeholders and a cross section of the target audience, as well as reviewing all existing activity and signposting support.

Then, we launched a pilot programme within the funeral arm of the organisation. We focused on the challenging nature of the employee-to-customer interactions, and we made sure everyone present knew they could freely speak about any situation that had impacted their mental health.

Really understanding the continuum of mental health was of the utmost importance to Central England Co-operative.

They wanted everyone to have complete confidence in recognising that a change in behaviour could suggest a movement away from health, and they were keen for everyone to understand that positive conversations and signposting at this stage could help restore mental wellbeing and minimise crisis situations.

Since our first pilot within their funeral function, we’ve rolled out our workshops across numerous other areas of the business and it’s now a stable and established organisation-wide manager programme.

The outcome

Post-workshop evaluations showed that:

  • Knowledge around mental health and mental illness increased;
  • Line managers had a clearer understanding of how to ask open questions and listen to the answers;
  • Line managers were more comfortable with the language surrounding mental health;
  • More people felt confident starting conversations around mental health, and understood the importance of getting to know their team, noticing changes, and taking action;
  • Line managers started supporting colleagues earlier, better aiding their return to work, and tactfully balancing difficult conversations about performance and wellbeing concerns; and finally
  • All attendees had a clearer idea of what signposting meant to their role and where they could find support.

The proof

 “Mental Health at Work has demonstrated the expertise to both develop and facilitate a mental health programme that meets the need of a diverse and challenging organisation.

We are already experiencing the value of attendees putting these skills into practice in their workplaces and we look forward to the results on the wider behaviour changes.”

Gina Willis, Leadership & Learning Manager,                                       Central England Co-operative

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