The East of England Co-operative Society is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its Ipswich-based distribution centre − and is creating a number of new jobs as the operation continues to go from strength to strength.

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The regional society, which is independent of the national Co-operative Group which has been the subject of negative publicity in the wake of problems at its banking arm, runs 136 food stores across Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk.

Its distribution centre, on the Boss Hall Industrial Estate in Ipswich, supplies the entire East of England Co-op store network and a further 41 stores operated by the Chelmsford Star Co-op in mid Essex.

The centre, which covers more than 10,000 square metres, already employs more than 170 people, including pickers, drivers and shift managers.

Among the longest-serving employees is Gary Jones who has been a delivery driver for 29 years, covering almost the entire history of the site.

“I deliver stock to stores across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex every day, starting my shift at 6am and finishing only when the deliveries for that day are complete,” he said.

“Before I set of, I carry out the daily checks on the vehicle then I’ll head out on the road. The best part of my job is that it takes me to different places all the time, which allows me to meet different people.”

He added: “My job can be challenging. You always have to be aware of other drivers’ actions that can impede your own and sometimes the weather can be tricky, particularly when it’s snowing or there is dense fog − the job keeps you on your toes!”

Another long server is logistics manager Angela Knox, who joined the distribution centre at the age of 15 in 1986.

She said: “In 30 years the look and feel of the place has completely changed. Everything is quicker and more accurate, and we know the location and stock level of any one product at any time.

“The way we run things at the centre is constantly improving, the business has continued to expand and hopefully it will continue to do so into the future.”

Due to expansion, the distribution centre is now looking for two new LGV (light goods vehicle) drivers and a number of additional warehouse staff.

The East of England Co-op, which is based at Wherstead Park, near Ipswich, and is a member of the EADT/EDP Top100 listing of the 100 largest businesses in Suffolk and Norfolk, has an annual turnover of more than £340million.

Besides its food stores − at which the offer includes a Sourced Locally range of products from more than 130 local suppliers − it operates businesses including petrol forecourts, funeral services, travel and online electrical retail.

It recently reported a 17% increase in annual pre-tax profit, to £2.8m, on turnover 2% up on the previous year at £342m, and its 170,000 members will this month share in a dividend payment of £3.5million.

Doug Field, the society’s executive officer for finance and technology, told members at the society’s annual general meeting last month: “We believe that being local and independent is a key strength and we are delighted to once again be able to give something back to our loyal members in the form of a dividend.”

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