Devon village shop opens in a burrow

The residents of a small village in West Devon are putting the finishing touches to their new community-owned shop – thought to be the first in the UK to be sited underground.

The Burrow in Exbourne is a unique shop, post office and cafe buried in a sloping field in the centre of the village. Sheep could safely graze on its roof, once the grass has regrown. It is set to open for business on 25 June with an official opening by local MP Mel Stride on 6 July.

Exbourne & Jacobstowe Community Association Ltd, the democratically controlled organisation that owns the shop, is using a loan from Co-operative & Community Finance to stock and furnish the new premises.

For the last 10 years the association has been running a temporary shop, which was open a few days a week, from the village hall. At night all the stock had to be put away in a store cupboard. The new premises has 145m2 of internal floor space and an external courtyard of 20m2 – room for a great deal of extra stock.

The association’s secretary Sally Hordern said: “The Burrow will sell as much local produce as possible. We aim to source fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy produce, bread and cakes from within 15 miles of Exbourne. We will also be stocking local arts and crafts goods. We want the Burrow to help regenerate the local economy.”

When the last shop (and post office) in Exbourne closed in December 2001, members of the local community, which had already been severely hit by the foot and mouth disease crisis that year, took action. They quickly set up a temporary shop and post office facility while they started to plan for a permanent solution. It took much longer than anyone had expected.

For various reasons it proved impossible to find suitable permanent premises in the village, and then a local architect, Steve Blakeman, suggested the underground shop. This unorthodox solution introduced a number of financial, legal and bureaucratic difficulties, but it also inspired the local residents to succeed. They raised a large amount money from a wide range of sources to progress the project and finally drew down the loan from Co-operative & Community Finance as the new building was nearly complete.

Ian Taylor said: “It’s taken a long time for this highly unusual project to reach completion and I don’t think it would have happened at all if it wasn’t for the determination of the people in the community association. They’ve overcome many obstacles to ensure that this small rural population has a useful and unique local resource.”