Sarah Batterbee is shop manager at Grindleford Community Shop, in the Derbyshire Peak District. The store, which opened after the old village store closed, sells a wide range of groceries, artisan bread, fresh fruit and veg. and local ice cream. It is part of the UK’s growing family of community businesses – which are now offering essential services to remote parts of the country under Covid-19 lockdown.
How did you get involved with the Grindleford shop?
The long-standing village shop shut down in about 2010 and a few villagers set up a pop-up shop on Saturday mornings. In 2014 we were generously given access to the vestry by the church, and opened as a permanent fixture. I got involved because I had taken early retirement and was looking for something to get my teeth into. We found the Plunkett Foundation, who were immeasurably helpful in giving us the expertise we, as amateur volunteers, lacked.
How has Grindleford responded to Covid-19?
We set up the Grindleford Support Network almost straight away. The kernel is a chain of street wardens, one per street, who know their neighbours well and can identify anyone not on the internet or who might need extra help. That idea came from our friend Frank who had started to do that independently in his part of the village, so we pinched his idea and rolled it out. All volunteers were invited to join a WhatsApp group. Shop orders are phoned in to a dedicated young mobile phone operator and the volunteer in the shop bags them up. The WhatsApp group is contacted and someone will come down, pick up the order and deliver it to the person’s home. Payment is over the phone. We sorted something similar for prescriptions, which segued into its current format as it responded to the two surgeries who serve us. We also have a group of careline callers available for anyone who needs a chat and we are setting up a foodbank.
Does the community store model give you any advantages in responding to situations like this?
The support network started with the shop wondering how to help people who were self-isolating, so yes. Although the network is now self-running, in the early days it was devised and implemented through the shop.
Grindleford is in a little group of parish councils in the Hope Valley and we have compared notes about our support systems. It’s definitely been easier for us, having a shop running and willing to be at the centre of the support effort. There are other spin-offs: we know everybody so it was easy to recruit people. And the underlying sense of belonging to something, and having somewhere to rally round, was essential.
What response have you had from your community?
Everyone clicked into place and did their bit; some sorting out card payments over the phone, some working out the delivery system, some manning phones, lots of people stepping up to deliver, street wardens looking out for individuals, others looking after the communications network. I couldn’t get down the street in March without someone else offering to help. The parish council stumped up some funding. It shows what can be done when folk just get on with it and do it. And how warm-hearted people are.
What support have you had?
Plunkett are always a friendly face and we have spoken to them a fair old bit recently. To some extent we are now so established that we are ploughing our own furrow. But of course we would not be here without guidance from Plunkett when we were setting up. They put us in touch with Leader funding [for projects that support the rural economy], which was enough to get us started without borrowing money. Share sales were Plunkett’s recommendation too. We used the Plunkett stocklist because we had no idea, and borrowed heavily on their advice regarding setting up finance systems. After that we were confident enough to make our own flourishes and things have settled into a successful operation.
After the crisis is over, do you think the good work community businesses will make the country value them more?
Within the village? Yes, for a long time, I think. We are a very tightly knit community and people won’t forget that those in need of help got it because of the shop and that there was somewhere to direct their desire to help. I am expecting our volunteer corps to have grown when this is all over, not least because once they get behind the till people really enjoy it. We’re also really hoping to harness some of the residual enthusiasm to set up a post-crisis delivery system, for the older population particularly, many of whom are stuck in houses built on steep slopes with slippery steps. There are lots of over 80s here, and therefore high levels of dementia and we have not really been able to reach them, but maybe we can now.
Within our local area? Yes, for a time, but we need to harness that goodwill, I think. The Hope Valley group of parish councils has applied for a grant for cargo bikes to run deliveries up and down the valley. They have started to pick up the idea that we need a virtual supermarket, made up of local businesses (some of them community, some of them quasi, some just gorgeous little retailers with big hearts). There is a model under development which might work. We are pretty lucky because with Manchester one way and Sheffield the other there are a lot professionals who know how to run a project. And we know where to get money from.
Nationally? For the reasons above, yes, I think so. I’ve seen such an outpouring of good will and willingness to help others. Our youngest volunteer is 17. All those over 70s who are self-isolating have clamoured to be giving something to do too. It gives you hope for the future.