I recently enjoyed a visit to Portobello Scotmid where I spent time speaking with the managers and staff about the role of the store during the recent coronavirus pandemic.


Scotmid Co-operative in its original form began in Grove Street, Edinburgh, in 1859 where its 12 members formed a co-operative society to help combat increasing prices and poor food choices for many people in the city. Over 160 years later, the stores maintain this outlook and if my visit was anything to go by, locals value its presence more now than ever.


Facebook responses to my visit have shown an affection not just for the store but staff, too, with manager Colin Blair praising customers in return for their patience and support during the pandemic. He described stories of people coming to the store to shop for neighbours, and those who were isolating, and the ways in which the staff were able to help the wider community.


Particularly successful were food appeals to help those who had been hit hard by the lockdown or had suffered job losses, providing a lifeline for local families and the community – a feat made all the more extraordinary given how hard the retail sector has been hit during Coronavirus.  With empty streets, less passing footfall, people isolating, social distancing and many people preferring the safety of shopping online, Scotmid has worked hard to stay open for those that depend on its services.


In true co-operative style, Portobello Scotmid worked to employ more staff during the pandemic, seeking recruits to help fill the gaps of staff who found themselves with care duties or had to isolate.


Lisa Stafford, Food Regional Business Manager at Scotmid, said, “As a co-operative, our core purpose is to support our communities and improve people’s everyday lives.


“Our teams have worked tirelessly over the past few months to do just that throughout a challenging time and its fantastic to see their work recognised at government level.”


For the community, this Scotmid store was a lifeline, a place of human warmth and support for those who had no-one, for whom the store is part of their daily routine, where they see familiar faces, exchange greetings and engage with staff as they shop for the food and products they need.


Through the pandemic, the stores have made this happen, meeting demand by working hard to keep supply lines operational and keep goods delivered on time.


The store’s role in lockdown has reminded us of the need for smaller stores, their role in society and the value of cooperation to help stave off the worst impact of Covid-19.

In all, my visit was an inspiring story for local communities. The clear commitment from staff towards customers serves as an example for the future. As we build back better we need to support community-based business models grounded in positive cooperative principles.