Central England Co-op celebrates contributions of its ‘frontline fathers’ going and above beyond to support their communities in Leicestershire

Central England Co-op is marking Father’s Day this Sunday by celebrating some of the fathers who have been working on the frontline in its food stores and funeral homes during these uncertain times.

Over the past three months colleagues in the Society’s 262 food stores and petrol stations, as well as 132 Funeral Homes have been providing vital food and essentials and supporting families during such difficult circumstances.

Many at the same time have had to balance their key work for their communities with the challenges of disruption to home life with the closure of schools and nurseries, dealing with life in lockdown with small children and often unable to call on family for support.

To mark Father’s Day, Central England Co-op is shining a light on some of its ‘frontline fathers’ and finding out how they and their families have managed during these challenging times.

Among them are Leicestershire store managers Lee Hardy, who leads the team at Central England Co-op in High Street, Measham and Jonathan Bird, in charge at the retailer’s new Oak Tree Corner store in Donington-le-Heath, as well as Andy Eeley, Senior Funeral Director within the Society.

Lee has two children, Olivia aged eight and Nathan aged five, and lockdown was particularly tough as he is separated from their mum which meant he was only able to see them through a window before Government restrictions were eased.

The 33-year-old, from Wigston, said: “I did see the children most days, however it was through the window, which was a completely different experience. It was very tough not being able to be close to them however each time I went we had fun by talking, laughing and playing games like hangman, noughts and crosses and drawing pictures and solving maths problems on the window.

“They have managed really well considering the circumstances. They have found it tough being away from me so much, however they have done lots of fun stuff with their mum and also enjoyed having a walk every day. We have always spoken on the phone or Facetimed a lot which they have loved and so have I.

“It has been very difficult at times as work has been very demanding in different ways. It took a few weeks to get used to it, but after that it sort of became the new normal and I feel I have adapted really well and now it has just become a part of my life that I juggle around seeing my children.”

Lee is now able to see his children in person again and said the two months were very hard but really made him appreciate how much they mean to him. He said he thinks they are proud of what he does for the community.

He said: “They are very proud of me being a key worker and they clapped every Thursday and always said it was for the key workers as well. Olivia and Nathan have also drawn lots of pictures that are proudly on display on the front door windows at Measham.”

For Jonathan, he has been balancing leading a new team at the Oak Tree Corner store near Coalville which opened in March, just prior to lockdown, with being dad to son Harrison aged 12 and daughter Tamzin aged eight.

Talking about how his children have managed through lockdown the 49-year-old from Leicester said: “At first they found not going to school strange and thought it was a week off, but this was ruined for them as we introduced home schooling!

“We introduced a timetable, so we have a set routine during the week, what time we go to exercise either bike rides or with the support of Joe Wicks workouts, and so they can understand what's going on we have had good chats about how they are and the support we can give them.

With the challenge of the opening weeks of a brand-new store and all the other obstacles that have been faced with introducing social distancing and unprecedented demand in the early days, Jonathan admitted balancing work and home life had been difficult.

He said: “After long, stressful days I just wanted to chill out, but the kids didn't understand this, they just saw that dad was home. However, we have been on courses over the last few years and this has helped me to balance the demands.

“On Thursday’s I have the day off and my wife goes to work so I become the teacher. I found this difficult at first as my head was full of work and now I had the challenge of home schooling as well. But I managed it and made myself available to them by ignoring the phone and just being 100% with them and this was an excellent way of calming myself down as well.”

Andy Eeley, from Earl Shilton, has two children Iris aged 10 and Alfred aged 6, as well as step-son Ryan aged 17 at home, while he works for the Society’s funeral team supporting families to say goodbye to their loved ones during these challenging times.

He has had to balance an unprecedented time at work, three children in lockdown and a house move, but he has been thankful for his wife being able to work from home, while also leading on home schooling.

The 39-year-old said: “It’s put a huge pressure on my wife in particular to keep on top of everything. From my perspective, the balancing act can be hard.

“The workplace has been particularly challenging, it’s very busy and there is a lot of nervousness amongst colleagues who are afraid for their own (and their families) safety. Despite provisions to keep colleagues safe, that nervousness is still there.

“When I return home, the children want to share with me their day and show me what they’ve been up to. It’s a real challenge to switch off from the pressures of the working day.

“Fortunately, I am able to manage my diary, so I can finish on time or work a weekend instead of a weekday if my wife needs a break from both home-schooling and work. I’ve also taken some time off from work to assist with the home schooling.”

Andy said the situation and his role have certainly made him appreciate his family time even more.

He added: “I value family anyway seeing what I see within the funeral industry, but perhaps sometimes take them for granted. The current situation has stopped me doing that, instead its further cemented the importance of spending time with your family.”

People can keep up to date with what is happening in their local community in response to Coronavirus by visiting a dedicated online hub at www.centralengland.coop/updates


Notes to editors

About Central England Co-operative

Central England Co-operative is one of the largest independent retail co-operative societies in the UK with interests in food, funeral, floral, travel and property investment.

Co-operatives have always been there for their communities; they were formed to protect them and help them flourish. 

Our 7,900 colleagues serving our Members and customers work hard to ensure that co-operative values, principles and spirit flow through everything we do to help support and improve our local communities.

Owned by hundreds of thousands of Members, we have over 430 trading outlets across 16 counties including West Midlands, Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Nottinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. 

We are proud of our reputation for ethical business practices and corporate responsibility.

We invest a percentage of our trading profit into local communities through our Community Dividend Fund scheme, have donated over £1.3 million to our corporate charity partner Dementia UK and also operate a pioneering food redistribution partnership with FareShare Midlands so unsold food goes to those in need.

Visit www.centralengland.coop for more information or follow us on Facebook or Twitter using @mycoopfood

Press office contacts: Rob Smyth and James Brindle

Phone - 01543 421390

Email - publicrelations@centralengland.coop