Community buys shop just before deadline

The residents of a small village in rural Northumberland are celebrating saving the only shop in the village, for the second time.

Slaley, located six miles from Hexham in the North Pennines, has an estimated population of 550. It also has the unusual distinction of having both a community-owned shop and a community-owned pub (the Rose and Crown), and both have been supported by loans from Co-operative & Community Finance.

The residents set up a community benefit society to run the village shop when the owners, who had run it for 50 years, retired in 2017. The owners offered to sell the property to the society for an agreed price so long as the purchase was completed within three years. The villagers just made the deadline.

David Allsop, Finance Director of Slaley Community Shop Ltd, said: “If we had not managed to raise the money and buy the freehold that would probably have been the end of the shop. It would have been sold, probably to a property developer. We are very grateful to Co-operative & Community Finance for helping us to save the shop.”

After exploring various grant options without success, the society launched a community share offer in May 2019. The share issue raised more than the minimum target but not as much as society needed so Co-operative & Community Finance provided a loan to make up the difference.

The society now has 170 members, many of whom are also members of the society that owns the Rose and Crown. The shop is run entirely by a team of nearly 60 volunteers.

The operation of the shop has been greatly affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Opening hours have been reduced because many of the volunteers are self-isolating. Despite this, turnover has increased as more people buy more food and groceries locally. “We have even had people from outside the community coming to try and buy all our toilet rolls,” said David Allsop. “But of course we would not allow that.”

David does not expect ownership to make a big difference to the operation of the shop. It will continue to be run by volunteers and the range of products stocked, which has been greatly extended over the last three years, is likely to remain the same.

There is a self-contained flat above the shop and the society receives the rent. One of the immediate improvements will be to install new and separate heating systems for the shop and flat.

Tim Coomer, Business Development Manager at Co-operative & Community Finance, said: ” At appraisal I was really impressed with Slaley Community Shop. Under their management over the past three years they have transformed the small retail space and built up a healthy business; securing an important asset for the village. With the current COVID 19 situation the shop is a lifeline to this isolated community and we are proud to support them and their activities at this challenging time.”

[picture: Shop volunteer Peter Stephenson (left) and society chairman Norman Watson pictured outside the shop in summer 2019.]