POP into the Socketts Heath Co-op store in Grays and it is likely the first thing that strikes you is the smell of fresh baking.
The store is proud of its fresh produce – and equally proud of the lady who bakes its bread, pies and doughnuts.
If you were to try and epitomise a perfect employee then Janet Chandler would tick most of the boxes.
She has been with the Co-op for almost 30 years – that much anticipated anniversary will arrive in February – but she still gets a kick out of arriving at her store, just as she did when she started in Harold Hill almost three decades ago.
The Co-op has been an integral part of Janet’s family life – her sister Tina is a Co-op baker at the Aveley store – and she says she could not wish for a better job.
Over the years she has had varied jobs at the Co-op, including being a supervisor and deputy manager at stores in Becontree and Aveley, but she could not be happier than in her current one – making rolls is a role she thoroughly enjoys.
“It’s a great job. We love to supply our customers with the best and turning around this fresh produce; rolls, bread, croissants, fruit pies and even doughnuts is a lovely thing to be able to do,” said Janet.
“I think my favourite is producing rolls, they smell so good – it’s tempting to eat them straight away but we have to get them to the customers which is a good job as I think I’d be a lot bigger,” she laughed.
“The items we produce are very popular and it’s good to be able to bring customers something so fresh.”
Perhaps surprisingly, baking in stores is nothing new. It was happening when Janet first joined the company – though the technology, innovation and product lines have kept up with the times.
“That’s what I like about working here,” she said. “Honestly, when I first started out I wasn’t sure about the Co-op, if I’m honest. I sort of thought it was an old-fashioned concept, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“It’s a place that’s full of ideas, the Co-op listens to its colleagues, it listens to its customers and members and we have a real sense of purpose.
“I really do enjoy being here, it’s like being in a family.”
And, as part of that family, Janet contributes her share too. Store Member Pioneer Claire Mason, who champions the Co-op's good causes and acts as a liaison point between the store and local charities, summed up her colleague: “Jan is a lovely lady, she’s a superstar. She shares her knowledge, she’s so friendly and she cares. She’s just brilliant.”