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13th April 2021
9:00am - 12:30pm
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Our unmissable conference, bringing together leading figures in the convenience sector with industry experts from around the world to take part in a discussion about the opportunities for retailers and suppliers in convenience, both now and in the future. Speaker bios are available below.

This year's conference will explore three key themes:

More details to be announced in due course, to register your interest, please email

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Event Speakers

James Lowman, Chief Executive, ACS

James was appointed ACS Chief Executive in November 2006. He has led ACS on political and policy representation, driven a unique research programme that informs ACS’ policy work, launched an industry-leading assured advice scheme in partnership with Surrey County Council, created a new and unique events programme, and increased membership and engagement from all parts of the industry. He has been recognised for his work with outstanding achievement awards from HIM, Palmer & Harvey, YIGA, and the Retail Industry Awards. James is a member of ministerial advisory groups including the National Retail Crime Steering Group and the Retail Sector Council. He also sits on the boards of Community Alcohol Partnerships, the London Food Board and the High Streets Task Force. James joined ACS in 1997. He has a degree in Politics from the University of Essex, and an MBA from Kingston Business School.

Debbie Robinson, Chief Executive, Central England Co-operative

Debbie Robinson is a passionate food marketer with over 25 year’s retail experience.

Debbie joined SPAR in 2011 and during that time has been instrumental in SPAR’s strategic ‘Delivering Growth’ 10 Point Plan. She has been closely involved in SPAR’s Round Pound campaign and for increasing penetration of fresh food throughout the SPAR estate.  Debbie has also been working closely with the Marketing Team to deliver SPAR’s TV advertising campaign ‘SPAR There for You’.

Before joining SPAR as Managing Director, Debbie was Director of Food Marketing at the UK's Co-operative Group. There she created and delivered the “good with food” campaign. She also had responsibility for the brand strategy, store formats, own-brand development and all customer communications including TV advertising.

Debbie set up her own business after leaving the Co-op and has worked on a number of projects including the own brand development for NISA, as well as overseas projects in Europe and the Middle East.

Debbie Robinson began her role as CEO of Central England Co-op in 2019, and took on the role of chair at ACS in November 2019. 

Anthony Bennett, Inspirational Speaker on Team Work, Resilience and Mental Health

Given just a 10% chance of survival having contracted 3 viral infections - Streph-Pneumonia, Influenza, and Staphylococcus, on a school trip to Disneyland, Anthony Bennett was resuscitated 12 times. Anthony now travels the world speaking on topics including; The Power of Teamwork, Dealing with Setbacks, Using and Sharing your Superpower, Maintaining Motivation and Resilience.

Louise Hoste, Managing Director, SPAR UK

Louise joined SPAR during September 2019 and comes to the business with a wealth of international retail experience.

Louise has worked for Walmart in the UK, Canada and Chile in commercial, customer and general management roles. After leaving Walmart Louise was Director of Category and Pricing at Brakes Foodservice, followed by Director of the Customer Offer at the Co-op. It was in this role where she relaunched the Co-op brand across the food ranges and worked on the ‘Closer To You’ strategy supporting the local and community agenda.

Prior to Co-op, Louise was Executive Commercial Director at Card Factory.

Sophie Towers, Owner, Kibble Bank One Stop

After finishing a career as a ballet dancer Sophie started to look for a new career. She had no background in retail but at the age of 22 took a lease on a newsagents locally. She refitted the shop and turned it into a symbol group convenience store. In the past 10 years Sophie has worked her business model of taking empty units or poor turnover businesses, refitting the store and increasing the turnovers to profitable businesses and then selling them on.  Her current main store is Kibble Bank One Stop which she converted from a empty pub in 2013. Her shops have all won awards for different things; community, responsible retailing, local awards etc. 

Sophie also has other stores currently in the planning stages. 

Harj Dhasee, Independent Retailer, Village Stores Mickleton

Harj Dhasee started his own retail story back in 2008 after leaving a high-flying national accounts manager job and arriving in rural Gloucestershire. Harj owns and runs the Village Stores Mickleton with a team of 15 employees. Village Stores is set for a 2021 refit to a Simply Fresh fascia and Harj is heavily involved in the local community, also working with suppliers to promote local produce. Harj has acted as a retail consultant for other retailers and was a triple award winner at the Convenience Retail Awards 2019.

Michael O'Loughlin, Chief Operating Officer, SimplyFresh

Michael O’Loughlin has over two decades of retailing experience. In 2008 he was appointed Managing Director of Applegreen UK and in 2017 Michael moved to MFG as Managing Director of Acquisitions and Business Development. Michael joined SimplyFresh as Chief Operating Officer in 2020.

Linda Carrington, Store Manager, AF Blakemore’s Laceby Lodge

Linda Carrington, received a British Empire Medal (BEM) in The Queen’s New Year Honours for 2021.

Linda, who manages A.F. Blakemore’s Laceby Lodge forecourt store in Grimsby has been recognised for her exceptional services to the community during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Linda also works with A.F. Blakemore’s charitable trust, the Blakemore Foundation, to support local good causes, and volunteers to help homeless charities in Grimsby. All year round, including Christmas Day, she hands out hot snacks to the homeless community. Linda is the Charity Champion for Blakemore Retail’s Hull and Humberside region, coordinating the fundraising efforts of 15 Spar stores in the area.

Natalie Brown, Head of Community Shop

Natalie manages our award winning social enterprise Community Shop, which exists to build stronger individuals and more confident communities. The Community Shop model consists of one shop, encompassing three interdependent spaces a Shop, Café and Development Hub. With the help of her empathetic, understanding and highly skilled Community Shop colleagues they work together to provide a hand up for communities who are on the cusp of poverty.

Natalie’s background is in Retail and people development, she is passionate about helping individuals to become the best version of themselves. Her career has seen her write and deliver engaging training materials to help people deliver the best outcomes for their organisation. She has developed leadership teams in creating powerful coaching cultures that enable, inspire and engage their teams in achieving their true potential. Natalie is passionate about making a difference and believes that every individual matters and has a valuable contribution to make.    

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