New Year honour for Gidea Park Co-op store manager who lobbied parliament to protect colleagues

Claire Saunders, 41, has been given the British Empire Medal, which celebrates 'meritorious' actions.

Claire Saunders, 41, has been given the British Empire Medal, which celebrates 'meritorious' actions. - Credit: USDAW

The store manager of a Co-op in Gidea Park has been awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for her services to food retail worker safety during the pandemic. 

Claire Saunders, 41, has been recognised in the queen’s New Year Honours list for her campaign to increase workplace protections for shop workers. 

Claire told the Recorder she was “completely shocked” by the recognition, which comes after she became involved in campaigning on the issue of shop worker safety after witnessing a rise in abuse and violence. 

She said: “[It] was getting far worse towards myself and colleagues to the point where I was physically assaulted.  

“The police weren’t coming when we were calling them and even when they were getting to court, nothing was being done.” 

According to a British Retail Consortium report, 455 incidents of violence and abuse towards retail workers occur in the UK every single day. 

Claire said the issue had become worse during the pandemic, with her witnessing staff members being spat at, physically assaulted and racially abused. 

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“It got to the point where you felt unsafe, and there is only so much the Co-op can do,” she said. 

She became a rep for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) and began to lobby for tougher sentences for abuse of shop workers. 

Campaigning was “all completely new” for Claire, who said the experience was “absolutely crazy”. 

She recalled: “All of a sudden I was doing live BBC Breakfast, talking to Keir Starmer – it was really daunting at first but because I’m so passionate about it, once I got into it, you couldn’t shut me up.” 

She also encouraged Co-op colleagues across the country to share their stories of abuse as part of the #notpartofthejob campaign. 

Early in December, the government confirmed it had tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to make attacking an individual who is providing a service to the public a statutory aggravating factor. 

This means the crime in question would be considered more serious in the eyes of a judge and could result in tougher penalties for anyone found guilty. 

Honours from the queen are awarded twice annually in June and at the turn of the year for “meritorious” actions, with around 300 BEMs awarded every year to community volunteers.