They may not have realised it yet, but Tesco Ireland have probably damaged their own Community Fund by the removal of the group Every Life Counts. Their continual refusal to address the concerns of many shoppers about this matter is doing the supermarket no favours either.
By way of background, Tesco’s Community Fund is a means for shoppers to help good causes in their local area. Once a local group is accepted for inclusion, it becomes eligible for a division of €1000, paid out by Tesco every few weeks. The percentage each group receives depends on how many blue tokens they receive from shoppers during the month. Out of all of the groups eligible in that area, only 3 can receive counters during the month in special containers set up in the store.
By all accounts, the Community Fund is a very successful venture, one that appeals to shoppers who really invest in the idea that they can help support their favourite local group while doing their shopping. It includes a very diverse set of organizations, including homeless charities, animal sanctuaries, childrens’ bands and sports clubs.
The inclusion of Every Life Counts was first queried on Twitter following which a decision was taken by Tesco Ireland to remove the group.
Unsurprisingly, several supporters of Every Life Counts began contacting Tesco on Twitter and elsewhere to try and find out what was the reason for its removal. The response was the same each time – Tesco is a politically neutral company and must ensure that each of the groups included in the Community Fund are also politically neutral. Which would be a fair response, I suppose – except that it’s completely inconsistent when you do even a cursory search of other groups in the Fund.
Some of those groups are organisations like Barnados, the Simon Community, and Focus Ireland. They’re all groups that are well capable of making political comments when necessary – in fact, while Tesco was busy removing Every Life Counts and apologising for their inclusion, Focus Ireland was running an online petition on homelessness in the run up to Christmas, in an attempt to try and buy some time for cash-strapped families under pressure to their banks. They make pre-budget submissions, call on the Government to improve services for vulnerable groups and generally participate in political discourse around their chosen field.
So it’s quite clear – groups in the Community Fund can have – or try to have – “political” influence. If this were not the case, then Tesco would currently be undergoing a review of all their groups, and organisations like Focus Ireland and the Simon Community would be off the list because they regularly make interventions with Government on behalf of the people they represent.
Let’s be clear here, though. Nobody wants that to happen, just as the families of Every Life Counts don’t want to be told that their raison d’etre – supporting families who were told that their babies might not live very long after birth – should exclude them from a Community Fund and the support that goes along with that.
Maybe instead of finding spurious reasons to exclude groups, Tesco needs to reacquaint itself with what the Community Fund was set up to do. On the application form, applicants are encouraged to talk about “what they do for your Community and what they’re fundraising for.” The Every Life Counts group states clearly on its own website that it supports the provision of better perinatal palliative care – something that everyone, on all sides of the abortion discussion in Ireland, can agree is not being given the resources that parents deserve.
Are there those who will disagree with the group’s comments on abortion? Of course – just as there are people who disagree with Barnados or Focus Ireland. Probably just as there are people who aren’t that fussed about a very local sports club being included. That shouldn’t exclude them from a Community Fund. After all, the clue is in the name – the Community Fund is made up of members of the community. Shoppers may not agree with comments they make, or the families they support, but then again, they aren’t obliged to put their blue counter into the container marked “Every Life Counts” in their local Tesco shop. They can just pop it into one of the other containers. Now, thanks to the complaints of a few and the inconsistency of Tesco, a group of grieving parents have been excluded from the Fund three weeks before Christmas. At a time when many of the members of Every Life Counts are already feeling the loss of their child so keenly, this additional exclusion by Tesco must come as an added blow.
There is still time for Tesco to put this situation to rights. Despite dealing with all manner of requests through their Twitter account this week, they have not provided the “clarification” that was promised. It would be a mistake for them to think that shoppers will simply forget about this matter. Many people who will be shopping over the next few weeks in the run up to Christmas will themselves know people who were grateful of the support of Every Life Counts at a time when their child was battling a life-limiting condition. They will have been grateful for the badly needed spotlight that the group shines on perinatal palliative care. And they will be wondering why Tesco are using such inconsistent arguments to support excluding them rather than pointing out to any querists or objectors that when it comes to making grieving families feel that their community is behind them, every little helps.
* This article has been amended to clarify the fact that the decision to remove Every Life Counts from the Community Fund was a decision taken by Tesco Ireland.