Over ten years ago when the Heart of England Co-operative Society launched a groundbreaking scheme, pledging every penny of its tobacco profits to charities and worthy causes across the trading area.
Since then tens of thousands of people in Coventry, Warwickshire, south Leicestershire and Northamptonshire have benefited from more than £686,000 of pledges.
Young carers, homeless people, cubs and brownies, cancer patients and the elderly are among the groups of people from all walks of life who have benefited from Helping Hearts.
From new football kits for children to short breaks away for carers, and from Christmas dinners for the homeless to travelling expenses for volunteers, the criteria for a Helping Hearts donation is wide and varied.
The scheme has proven to be a huge success yet it is still believed to be the only fundraiser of its kind anywhere in the world.
Among the groups to have benefited is Rugby Theatre, which every year runs an annual Youth Project for the local community. Now in its 13th year, the project invites young people from across Rugby borough to take part in producing a musical, staged over a two-week period in the summer. Those who sign up can audition for onstage roles, or join the backstage production team. There are usually 100 people aged 10 to 21 involved in the shows.
Each production costs about £25,000. Members are asked to pay a £65 registration fee and the rest of the cost is raised through sponsorship.
Phil Kettle, of Rugby Theatre, said: “All the shows we have done have been really well received by the public – the community really supports us.
“One of our young girls is now starring in Sunset Boulevard in the West End, and others have jobs in the industry. They all say without this project they wouldn’t have gained the right knowledge.
“Helping Hearts is a fantastic way of dividing funds for the community. Without this kind of scheme projects like ours would not be possible.”
Ali Kurji, Chief Executive of the Heart of England Co-operative Society, which prides itself as an ethical retailer, said it felt wrong for the Society to continue profiting from sales of such goods. He said: “The very foundations of this Society are built on our pride as an ethical retailer and as such we thought it only right to no longer reap the rewards of sales of tobacco products.
“Instead we hope our profits are helping to improve the lives and quality of life of our customers and members, their children and their communities.”
HOW TO APPLY…
To apply for a Helping Hearts Award call into any of the Society’s 55 locations and pick up an application form. Forms should be returned to any branch. Alternatively contact Jo Dyke, Community and Membership Adviser, on 024 7638 2331.