Wiltshire's village-owned shops buck the trend, writes Lesley Andrews

PUBLISHED: 14:47 19 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:44 20 February 2013

This former carriage house for horses used in the local pub trade has a new lease of life as Rowde's village shop.

This former carriage house for horses used in the local pub trade has a new lease of life as Rowde's village shop.

A smile and a chat. Wiltshire's village-owned shops buck the trend, writes Lesley Andrews

Recession has hit retailing hard; high street traders offer huge discounts and shops stand empty. But village shops are holding their own. In 2005, 92 villages in Wiltshire had a shop; in 2009 the figure was 94.
A number of trends are at work here. Interest in local food production has encouraged small business start-ups, ranging from chocolate makers and artisan bakers, to flour producers and cheese makers. Independent retailers find that customers welcome the opportunity to support specialist suppliers.

Increases in petrol costs has resulted in fewer trips to town. But for many the big draw is the experience of shopping locally. Meeting and greeting others on a shopping round turns a chore into a sociable pleasure.
In Wiltshire 14 village-owned shops place a smile and a chat at their heart, and here we look at what has been achieved at three of them when determined volunteers took up the challenge of running a mini-supermarket.

Oaksey
The earliest of these stores dates from 1996 when the last shop in Oaksey was threatened with closure. Instead local benefactors bought the premises which were later transferred to the Oaksey Village Shop Association. In 1996 there was little experience about how to run a village-owned shop so the committee leased the shop to managers and helped with volunteer labour for holidays or sickness cover.

Today this unusual formula works well. Since 2001, Liz and Kevin Duffy have run the village store and post office as their own business in return for a modest rent payable to the Association. Like many community-owned shops, the premises are small but the shelves are packed.
This is a seven-day-a-week operation with most customers coming from the village but passing trade from workmen and casual custom from visitors to a nearby golf course add to the mix.


All Cannings
The shop at All Cannings is perhaps more typical of todays community-owned stores. This too is a 7/7 operation but here a part-time manager is assisted by 30 volunteers. Their dedication is remarkable. Last winter, when the village was cut off by snow, one volunteer skied from a nearby hamlet to work her shift. To keep the village stocked with bread, members of the committee went to town in a 4 x 4 and returned across the fields to avoid the chaos on icy local roads.

Volunteers in this context does not mean amateur. All Cannings has the latest in equipment with barcoded goods, a touch-screen till, credit card facilities and security cameras. Like all businesses, village shops comply with the demands of VAT returns, Health and Safety regulations and local planning requirements. So while being equipped with the latest in technology costs, it does take some of the drudgery out of shop management.


Rowde
Rowde is the latest village in Wiltshire to move into retailing. The last shop closed here seven years ago, and a key finding from a village survey revealed that 80% of respondents said they would use such a shop regularly, and 70% saying they would volunteer to help! These returns were optimistic but they sowed the seeds.

Three years of hard slog followed with enormous effort to find the right premises, battle bureaucracy and raise 80,000 to cover start-up costs.
Its a tough call to reintroduce local shopping after a long gap, but the results are encouraging. The shop association has over 300 members and the paid shop manager calls on 40 volunteers. One of these, Richard, the local milkman, demonstrates how people pitch in. Richard delivers to the shop every morning. On afternoons he may be on the volunteer roster. For him and for others the shop has brought Rowde alive again. People who havent spoken for years renew old friendships. The little shop gets very crowded and the volume of chatter and laughter can be a distraction to the person on the till, but as one customer was overheard to say recently, This might not be as fast as Morrisons, but it sure is a lot more fun!

As the storyline in The Archers illustrates, the experience of communities taking on village retailing is not all plain sailing. But where a good business case can be made and local support won, the benefits are enormous: people form new social networks; local talent and knowledge is uncovered and tapped into; small-scale producers find new markets; vulnerable people are assured of more support. In the words of John Mead, secretary of All Cannings Community Store, The shop has been brilliant at bringing people together. And with a good pub and school, and a thriving shop, ours is a very desirable place to move to.


Finding out more
To find out more about village retailing in Wiltshire, contact Tim Coomer at Wiltshires rural community council: Community First,
01380 722475, www.communityfirst.org.uk. For more general information about community-owned shops, and an update on
The Archers, see www.plunkett.uk.net

 
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