Lara Wilson catches up with one of our newest Member Nominated Directors (MNDs), Margaret Casely-Hayford.
I was sitting next to Margaret at our AGM when she heard she’d been elected. She was genuinely surprised and excited when the results were announced. I later found out that on the way there, she’d been consoled by her husband that she probably wouldn’t get elected, but that it was good practice for next time.
Here’s what I found out in my ten minutes with Margaret.
What’s your background?
I was a lawyer for 30 years, in London for 20 of them. I did a lot of planning and development work which was like social engineering really, as decisions about where housing, shopping centres, supermarkets and football clubs should be built all affect how a community comes together. After that, I became the Director of Legal Services for John Lewis Partnership. I’m now retired, but I’ve been on the Boards of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, the Geffrye Museum and I’m now chair of the charity Action Aid UK.
What do you do in your spare time?
To me it’s really important to give the next generation a hand up, so I am mentor and advisor to young entrepreneurs who’ve started their own businesses. One is actually a successful tech entrepreneur and is now touring primary schools teaching business and entrepreneurial skills. Another gives sixth formers a chance to go into businesses as young advisers, and one is establishing a chain of restaurants and bars and already has one in the Trafford Centre.
I also love music and try to relax by playing the cello, which I took up about fifteen years ago when my daughter was learning the violin – I don’t practice enough though, so I am completely hopeless. When I need to get out, I often battle with nature too – i.e. what most people would call ‘gardening’!
How did you get involved with the Co-op?
Well I’ve been a member for a long time and always followed Co-op developments in the news. I remember seeing the negative publicity in 2014 and it really upset me. I just thought ‘This can’t happen! – not to such an important institution’. So that helped me decide to stand for election.
What do you bring as an MND?
Lots of experience in community and charity work, and also working for John Lewis, which is another form of co-op. And enthusiasm, I’m really passionate about connecting with young people and would love to bring more of them into the Co-op. I manage a rapper, so I’d like to think I have my finger on the pulse!
Oh yes I manage a rapper called Kelvyn Colt who is a friend of my daughter’s. He’s really good. He won a competition in Germany to lead a hip hop version of Romeo and Juliet before he came to University here, so he’s already fairly well known back home. He performed at the Board Masters festival in Cornwall a few weeks ago and went down really well, so he was re-booked for next year.
What have you been doing as an MND, and what next?
So far I’ve been meeting lots of people from across the Co-op. I’ve spent time in stores to see how things work, and chatted to colleagues, shoppers and members. In the next few months I’ll be doing Lend a Hand in a store, visiting our academies and I’d like to get involved with the Young Members Board too. And there will be lots more in the pipeline I’m sure. The store visits were such an eye opener. It’s amazing to see what a diverse customer base different Co-op stores have. Managers really have to focus their stock to suit the people who live and work in the community, otherwise customers will vote with their feet.
What’s your favourite Co-op product?
The sticky toffee pudding. No contest. I could eat a whole tray if I didn’t have to share it.
If you could have dinner with anyone alive or dead, who would it be?
That’s easy, the Rochdale Pioneers. I’d like to ask if what we’re doing is true to their dream, and to check we’re on the right track in terms of future strategy. Hopefully they’d say “keep going, you’re doing just fine”, but it’d be good to find out. I’d also like to mix things up a bit, ask them why, given how forward thinking they were, there are no female pioneers in that iconic picture.