Case study: how dementia-friendly training made East of England Co-operative retailer of choice in the region

by Apr 2, 2017Case studies

The East of England Co-operative has met a community need and found a competitive edge to differentiate its business by becoming the leading dementia-friendly retailer in East Anglia. In response to a growing need to help older people within the community, the Co-op gave their colleagues bespoke training around supporting customers living with dementia.
East of England Co-operative
Date 2016
Region Suffolk
Size 4700 employees
Sector Retail

employees who accessed elearning


employees who completed training

years of simulated aging when training in a 'GERT' suit


increase in sales realised

Wide reaching benefits to the business and community

The training’s outcomes have been wide-reaching and impressive. Two-thirds of the current workforce have completed the training at an average cost of £3.70 per participant and colleagues are genuinely enthusiastic about providing a real community service to customers. The East of England Co-op has seen an increase of 1.7% in sales at a time when many competitors are reporting losses. It has also seen an increase in membership with 16,000 new members joining in the last year.

Statistics from The Alzheimer’s Society in 2016 show that there are 50,000 people living with dementia in the region with 1 in 14 people over the age of 65 having the condition in the UK. Following the launch of the Government’s ‘Dementia Friendly’ campaign, the East of England Co-op launched the Dementia Friendly Retail programme with the goal of being the first choice of retailer locally for people living with dementia.


Training to meet a real community need

The training programme was designed by the organisation’s dementia champion and learning and development team along with the Norfolk and Suffolk Dementia Alliance and the Alzheimer’s Society. The East of England Co-op help a launch event with staff to promote the benefits of completing the voluntary training programme and in its first month over 1000 employees had accessed the e-learning system.

The programme blends e-learning, face-to-face training and a powerful simulation exercise. The unique ‘shopping in their shoes’ experience sees colleagues wear an age simulation suit (GERT suit) that is designed to age the wearer by 30 years, distorting their senses and making movement more difficult. The trainee is then asked to complete tasks such as entering a shop and finding a basic list of items to purchase; not one person from the senior managers’ training session completed the task successfully highlighting some of the challenges that older people may face.

‘As a community retailer it’s important that we support all of our members and customers to retain independence and feel part of their community for as long as possible. Popping to the local shop and speaking with one of our store colleagues may be the only social interaction that person has for days, weeks or even months – so ensuring our colleagues have the knowledge and support to make those interactions count, as well as making physical changes to our stores where possible, is a key part of us becoming a dementia friendly retailer.’

Roger Grosvenor, Joint Chief Executive, East of England Co-operative

Equipping staff with the right skills

One scenario-based training session focuses on security teams who experience situations where people leave the store without paying. Rather than moving straight to a criminalising approach, they’re now equipped with a new set of soft skills to help support the business and the wider community.

Trailblazer in dementia

The East of England Co-op is now seen as a trailblazer after being asked to be part of the Dementia Friendly Businesses pilot led by the Alzheimer’s Society. It has developed close working partnerships with Dementia Alliance and Age UK and often works in the community running dementia awareness sessions with local schools and scout groups. The East of England Co-op has created a unique approach to differentiate its business, has developed its loyal pool of employees and has delivered significant benefits to local individuals and the community.


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