James Lowman is Chief Executive of the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), the voice of over 33,500 local shops which are valuable partners in CAP's work to tackle underage drinking. In this blog he talks about the importance of building communities to share experiences and struggles - and provide support during troubled times.
I’ve been very proud to serve as a director of Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAP) for many years, and during the Covid crisis we saw the principles surrounding CAP become even more important. The C, the A and the P of CAP have all assumed greater significance for our sector, and we should build on what we have learned over this time.
Community is a much overused word in our sector and in society as a whole. Is a community a physical place defined by geography, and are you a community retailer simply by virtue of trading in that place? I think it’s about far more than this; a common purpose and relationship with people for whom, yes, you are the local shop, but for whom you offer far more than the products on the shelf.
I could wax lyrical about the things our members have done to support their communities – notably offering new delivery services particularly for vulnerable people – but it’s the wider community story that matters most. We had members turning up for another stressful day in their store and being met by local volunteers who wanted to help with those deliveries, or to help with queue management and social distancing at the store, all because they saw why there needed to be a community effort to help everyone get through these anxious and extraordinary times.
We have also changed our relationship with alcohol over this period. Until 4 July nobody was drinking in pubs and restaurants, so all alcohol sales were funnelled into shops and consumption focused on drinking at home. This, rightly, brought more scrutiny to the off trade: were people consuming alcohol responsibly, what were the wider social implications of people drinking outside in groups as lockdown eased? I think we have been shown in a positive light, and being part of a CAP and pro-actively tackling these issues has never been more important.
And that’s because of partnership. For all the great work between public and private sector over this time, there’s been a risk bubbling below the surface of a blame game between the Government, local authorities, the police and enforcement agencies and businesses. The whole point of a CAP is to bring people together, and while the physical meetings may have stopped, the relationships that have been formed through CAPs have aligned everyone behind common goals backed by trust and open communication.
ACS has tried to play its part in advising members on complying with rules on social distancing and safe trading, and providing the link between Government and the industry. Members have been even more receptive than usual to advice about engaging in their community; downloads and views of our advice have been fourfold what we would usually expect.
CAP has also been challenged by the difficulties of bringing people together – a fundamental part of establishing and running local CAPs – but has adapted brilliantly to help create, train and support Young Health Champions online. Many of its community partners have also found innovative ways of connecting with young people to encourage positive activity without the need for physical contact, with virtual youth clubs, Zoom sessions and live Instagram sessions. Out of this national tragedy, we can hopefully find ways of working better in the future, and I’m confident than both ACS and CAP are perfectly placed to play a leading role in a future that will place even greater emphasis on community and partnership.