Community save the only shop in the village

A loan from Co-operative & Community Finance to a determined Somerset community benefit society has helped save the only shop and Post Office in a rural village.

The Hinton St George & Locality Rural Community Services (HRCS)) and its 335 members took over the management of the shop in Hinton St George on 30 July 2011. The shop, which was due to close following the retirement of the previous owners, has been saved by willing residents who wanted to secure its future and has now been renamed Our Shop.

The shop is now part of the Village CORE Programme, a partnership between the Plunkett Foundation and Co-operative & Community Finance dedicated to supporting communities looking to set up and run a community-owned rural shop.

Emma Way, Vice-Chairman of the HRCS, said: “Essentially it is the only shop in the village. The nearest supermarket is a six mile round trip, access is difficult as most roads are only single tracks and the bus service is poor. We also have a very high elderly population, many of whom find it difficult to get out to do their shopping and rely on the shop for their independence and combating social isolation. The village really values the shop, it is the hub of the village.”

Support to keep the shop open was high. In 2010 a survey was carried out showing that 99% of residents thought the shop was important, and 96% were prepared to support efforts to keep it open.

The prospective closure led to the development of the HRCS, a community benefit society. The aim of the HRCS was to bring together the community, raise funds and develop a business plan for a community shop. So far, an amazing £425,000 has been raised from a combination of community fundraising, grants and loans and fundraising continues to complete the financing of the development of the premises.

Emma Way said: “It is a one stop shop for villagers that can’t travel elsewhere for groceries. It is a convenience store but it is much more, it sells alcohol, sweets and tobacco, but also has deli counter and homemade preserves.”

The HRCS hope to expand the business in the future by increasing the floor area and developing the Our Shop brand: Our biscuits, Our wines, jams and marmalades.

Ian Rothwell, from Co-operative & Community Finance, says, “The Village CORE programme has proved to be tremendously successful. It has been great working with village communities and seeing the energy and enthusiasm they have generated to create a successful enterprise.”