It may have been a tough year for retail, but that didn’t stop the industry from playing its part as a good corporate citizen and helping those in need, from the homeless to refugees. These initiatives are just the tip of the iceberg of retail’s engagement with the wider community.

Helping flood-hit farmers

Flooding made headlines this year and Tesco teamed up with pickle brand Branston to come to the aid of farmers in the east of England, where the deluge had affected the yield and appearance of potatoes.

The grocer is selling specially packaged spuds from the region, which provides 60% of Tesco’s premium potatoes. The label reads: “I’m not looking my gorgeous normal self but I still taste great. Buy me and support British farmers affected by the floods.”

It is only one instance of how retailers work in partnership with suppliers and the communities where they are based.

New lives for refugees

Ikea, which is all about the comfort and pleasure of home, has been helping those forced to flee their own homes and countries.

Ikea’s partnership with Breaking Barriers, now in its third year, is designed to help refugees find meaningful work. It ranges from the provision of English classes to retail training and assessment days to improve employment prospects.

Over the course of the programme, 83 people have had customer service English training, and most went on to paid employment. Ikea has hired 29 co-workers with 65% retention after a year - a reflection of the value people put on their much-appreciated roles with the retailer.

Putting unwanted gifts to good use

The golden quarter is when many retailers make most of their money but not all the purchases of presents are welcomed by recipients.

Jeweller Beaverbrooks is running a scheme to make sure unwanted gifts don’t languish unused. Through the Charity Gift Swap Weekend after Christmas, Beaverbooks branches will accept unloved prezzies which will then be donated to good causes. Donors will receive a £10 Beaverbrooks gift card in return.

The initiative is part of the retailer’s 100th anniversary celebrations but is typical of its way of doing business. Beaverbrooks regularly donates 20% of retained profits to good causes.

Supporting the homeless

It’s no surprise that retailers should take this issue seriously when homelessness is so evident in many high streets and town centres.

Among those providing support is North East-based shoe retailer Clinkard, through its Caring Soles campaign and the local In Out of the Cold initiative. Clinkard customers donated 500 pairs of nearly new shoes which were distributed to people in the area.

Extending digital literacy

As the rise of digital technology continues to transform retail and life, it is appropriate that etailer Ocado’s foundation supports digital literacy and education.

Initiatives include Code for Life, which “delivers free, open-source games that help all students learn about computing” and AI:MMO, an online adventure game designed to teach secondary school children about AI and Python coding.

Ocado explains: “By sharing our expertise in food, retail, logistics and technology, we aim to add value to our society now, and help the next generation achieve more.”

Backing better education

The Co-op, which pioneered corporate social responsibility before the term even existed, is celebrating its 175th anniversary by sponsoring academy schools.

According to group chief executive Steve Murrells, by 2022 there could be up to 40,000 pupils at 40 Co-op-backed academies.

He told The Guardian: “We are trying to put more of the wealth we create back into communities.

“At a time when the country is in disarray, divided between the haves and have-nots, the country needs more Co-ops showing doing good is good for business.”

Looking after retail staff

Industry charity the Retail Trust which supports those in need in the industry, made grants altogether of £411, 644 in the last year to provide financial, physical and emotional support.

The Trust reported that for every £1 it raised, a social return on investment ratio of £5.69 - an increase of 18.3% year on year.

As well as services such as counselling and a helpline, the Trust has pushed onto online wellbeing services designed to enable retail staff to better manage their health.

Food aid

Grocers are putting food on the tables of those who otherwise might struggle to eat through tie-ups with food banks and similar organisations.

Sainsbury’s, for instance, which works with 2,000 local partners all year around, has launched #shopforothers this Christmas, encouraging customers to donate products – it hopes that more than a million food items and toys will be donated over the festive period.

That is on top of the grocer’s donation of unsold or close to best or use by date food to local charities, which Sainsbury’s has done for more than two decades.

Recognising ‘hidden’ disabilities

Shopping can be difficult for some people, but their need for a little extra assistance is not always obvious.

That’s why retailers such as Marks & Spencer and Tesco have adopted the sunflower lanyard scheme. Customers who may have ‘invisible’ disabilities such as hearing impairment, mental health issues or epilepsy, wear the lanyards as a signal to store staff that they might need extra help.

M&S retail director Sacha Berendji said in September that the retailer is “committed to being the UK’s most accessible for customers.”

Dividends that do good

While Primark is famous for low prices, it also makes a big contribution to good causes because of its ownership.

The Weston family’s Wittington Investments vehicle – though which Primark-owner ABF shares are held - has paid a dividend of £101m, the Sunday Times reported.

About 80% of the dividend will go the Garfield Weston Foundation, which supports good causes in fields ranging from the arts to education, the environment and health. Organisations ranging from Surfers Against Sewage to Hull Youth Support Trust have been among the beneficiaries of the Weston’s generosity and Primark’s success.

Every little helps

Micro-donations specialist Pennies, a contemporary equivalent of the old-fashioned charity collecting can, raised more than £20m this year as the number of donations exceeded 85 million.

Retailers such as Boots Opticians, The Entertainer, HobbycraftOasis and Kingfisher-owned Screwfix are among the retailers that participate in the scheme, which has raised money for charities including Age UK, Alzheimers Society, Devon Air Ambulance and Heads Together.

Mental health support

The importance of good mental health has rocketed up the agenda and, as responsible employers, retailers have been at the forefront of initiatives to ensure they give their staff the support they need.

This year, to coincide with World Mental Health Day, John Lewis Partnership, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asos, the Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Next launched Wellbeing in Retail in partnership with the Samaritans.

They unveiled an online guide to providing mental health advice for staff and who may be struggling.

John Lewis Partnership chair Sir Charlie Mayfield said: “Mental health issues can affect us all – and stigmas and barriers that once prevented people talking about the issues are starting to erode.

“The world of work and retail, in particular, is fast-paced and constantly changing, and we want employees to feel supported.

“I hope this guide is a stepping stone to creating further conversations on mental health and gives workers the confidence to use it when they may need it.”