Recently I caught up with our Member Nominated Director (MND) Hazel Blears. Hazel was voted in at our AGM in 2015 and has been busy making her mark since then. Here’s what she had to say:
What’s your background?
I was born and brought up in Salford. I had great parents who always encouraged me and taught me that you have to work hard for what you want, and to just keep on going!
I worked as a solicitor for Manchester City Council for 15 years and then got elected as a councillor for Salford. I stood for Parliament three times (I really don’t give up!) before being chosen as a Minister and then Public Health Minister.
I really enjoyed my time as a Minister as I brought in legislation and campaigns that made some really positive changes – we started the anti-drugs campaign ‘Talk to Frank’, banned tobacco advertising and developed the ‘5 a day’ guidelines.
What do you do outside of the Co-op?
I really like cooking and dancing and I’ve recently learned to Tango with my husband. I also spend a lot of time with my dad as he’s 87 now, so I like to look after him – I took him on a mini cruise recently.
I’m also the Chair of Salford Institute for Dementia and a Trustee of the Alzheimer’s Society. Both of these roles mean a lot me as my mum died two years ago with Alzheimer’s, so I really want to give back and help in this area. As there’s no cure it’s about living well with dementia – there’s evidence that music, drama, art and dancing can slow down dementia, and getting together and doing these activities also helps tackle loneliness too.
How did you get involved with the Co-op?
Well it was a long time ago, as I joined the Co-op Party in my early 20’s and went to all the area member meetings. I’ve always believed in the co-op way of working and used what I learned in my younger days through my career – in the Government I always championed mutuals and social enterprises and also tried to encourage co-operative working.
I put myself forward as an MND as I think there’s a real place for commercially successful businesses with an ethical heart. People don’t trust businesses anymore, so businesses have to change and be more responsible – and the Co-op can lead the change.
What’s the role of MNDs at the Co-op?
MNDs have to be an authentic, in-touch voice of the membership, and also work closely with the Council. We need to bring our experiences and ideas gained in our career into the Co-op and share them, so we can help drive the businesses’ commercial success. There’s also a need to balance this success with our values and principles though, so another important role is making sure they’re at the heart of everything we do.
What do you bring as an MND?
Well I have a lifetime of commitment to co-operative and mutual principles. I also have the experience of running the Health Department in Government; which helps, as that role was also all about understanding people and trying to make things better for them.
I think I’m in touch with colleagues and members – they find me approachable and I have a good idea of what’s good and what’s not so good.
I’m also very practical and energetic – I just want to get things done!
What have you done as an MND and what’s next?
I’ve been meeting people from all over the Co-op. I went into store to lend a hand in Windermere over Christmas and it was really nice to chat to colleagues and members. I’ve also supported at member and council events.
One thing I’m always working on is finding ways to maximise our social and economic impact in our communities – like how we use our supply chain to buy local and sustainable goods and services; employ apprentices; and give a chance to people who need a foot in the door.
What’s your favourite Co-op product?
It has to be the chicken in garlic and lemon sauce that you cook in the bag – it’s amazing; the meat just falls off the bone. Also our pizzas – Thursday night is usually pizza night and we really enjoy a pepperoni with a bottle of red wine.
Who would you have dinner with – alive or dead?
That would have to be Barbara Castle, the Labour heroine and women’s champion. She’s no longer alive but she achieved so much in her life. She was one of the longest-serving female MPs in the history of the House of Commons and helped make many positive changes in her roles as Transport Minister, Employment Minister, Health Secretary and Member of the European Parliament. She was also recognised by the UK and South African Governments for her commitment to ending Apartheid.