The big society is coming to life with the concept of Business Connectors linking up to local charities, says Gwynn Burr

Much has been said about the big society, and the government's vision of people working together locally to improve their communities.

At Business in the Community's Leadership summit and agm on Thursday, Sainsbury's committed to work in partnership with government, BITC and other stakeholders to develop the concept of 'Business Connectors' local brokers working collaboratively with business and local organisations to benefit their communities.

We believe Business Connectors have the potential to be a powerful and positive force in their communities, so will second a number of Sainsbury's colleagues to take on Business Connector roles over the next three years.

Charities and community organisations are facing significant challenges, so support from businesses will be increasingly important for them. We're supporting more grassroots charities than ever before all our stores, distribution centres and store support centres team up with a local charity, chosen by customers and colleagues. Last year, more than £1m was donated to around 800 community groups and charities across the country. Just as important is the time that colleagues volunteer to work with their charities to date we're at more than 3,500 days volunteered and counting!

In addition, schools, nurseries, sports clubs, Scout and Girlguide groups have benefited from the £100m worth of sports, cooking and gardening equipment and active experiences donated via Sainsbury's Active Kids initiative.

Raising money is by no means the only thing businesses should be doing to benefit their communities. Providing quality job opportunities is more important than ever at a time of public sector job cuts. Forward-thinking employers must continue to invest in their workforce we're proud to have achieved Gold accreditation from Investors in People in recognition of the work we do to develop our people. All 150,000 Sainsbury's colleagues have the opportunity to study for nationally recognised qualifications, and the launch of our six Food Colleges will see up to 10,000 colleagues a year get specialist training to gain the skills to work on our fish, meat, deli and hot counters and in our bakeries.

Supermarkets should be at the heart of the community, and for that reason we've developed our 'More than a Store' ethos. We encourage local people to make use of our stores for more than just doing their shopping. We have 450 in-store cafés regularly used for community activities and meetings. Local charities regularly raise awareness of their work and collect money in our stores through bag packing and other activity. We've introduced a police presence into 34 of our stores, including a police training unit in our store in Barkingside, East London. Customers like the security of having police officers close to hand and it also provides rent-free accommodation to local constabularies.

As retailers, we all have a responsibility to the communities in which we operate. We must be good neighbours and responsible employers, and be responsive to local needs. We urge other retailers to support the Business Connector initiative, to make our communities the vibrant, dynamic hubs they deserve to be.

Gwyn Burr is Sainsbury's customer service and colleague director, and chair of Business in the Community's Community Investment Leadership Team.