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What is business’ responsibility to the communities in which they are based?

CS_York Cocoa House Sophie profile pictureWe opened York Cocoa House three years ago, we’re based in York and we focus on chocolate. York had once been known as the Chocolate City but, when we opened, the chocolate industry had all but died out. It had once employed nearly half of York’s adult population, manufacturing filled the city with the pungent aroma of chocolate while luxury hand-made treats rapidly made the Terry and Rowntree brands international prize winners.

The profits from their chocolate endeavours went on to shape not only a city but much of our country’s modern social welfare systems. Rowntree’s and Terry’s of York were both influential families in the city, their industry created gainful employment, it also constructed libraries, schools, a model village, hospitals, a world leading university and even the city council chamber. Anyone venturing into the chocolate industry in York had very large shoes to fill.

 In York the relationship between industry and society was not considered philanthropy.… it was an integral part of their make-up.

In York the relationship between industry and society is not considered philanthropy, CSR, Return on Investment, Social Value or any of today’s buzz words. It was an integral part of their make-up; happy, healthy, looked-after staff make a better, longer-serving, more efficient and engaged team. A healthier, happier and more prosperous community makes for more loyal, successful and entrusted business and customer relationships.

Our team doesn’t need a policy to guide their decisions.

I was asked the other day if my role working with a local school was part of our CSR? We don’t have a CSR policy, our role within our community is us, it’s part of our make-up. Our team doesn’t need a policy to guide their decisions, they do what you do when someone visits your home and asks for your help, they help as best they can and they recognise the value that that behaviour generates not only in business terms but in our community.

Without a happy, healthy and prosperous community our businesses are nothing.

Our community in York are our customers, they are our suppliers, they help us out when we need something at short notice, they are our collaborators, our critics and we must never forget that ultimately they are our employers. Without a happy, healthy and prosperous community our businesses are nothing.

We have just announced our next project, it’s to take a part of the old Terry’s chocolate factory in the city and to make it into a working chocolate factory again, at a different scale and a different market position. The response from our local community has been outstanding, from offers of investment, to customers demanding output already, to businesses offering support and services to make it happen as well as the genuine goodwill from former workers and local residents.

With the right business and relationship model we can be stronger than our parts and more ambitious together with our community’s voice at the heart of that process.

Sophie Jewett is Director of York Cocoa House

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