Review of the Year: Village co-op society gives up independence after 150 years

In 2013 Scotmid welcomed Penrith into its family of co-operatives and Anglia and Midlands merged to form a new super co-op, while in West Yorkshire, a tiny, one-store...

In 2013 Scotmid welcomed Penrith into its family of co-operatives and Anglia and Midlands merged to form a new super co-op, while in West Yorkshire, a tiny, one-store society finally gave up its independence.

After 152 years serving the local community, Shepley Co-operative Society approached Midlands Co-operative Society for help this year. The store on Station Road had haemorrhaged £125,000 over three years, roughly equivalent to its wages bill.

Fewer customers and a smaller basket spend meant the store was trading at a loss. Keen to update the facilities, Shepley Industrial and Provident Society Committee looked to Midlands to invest in the store and safeguard jobs.

"It was in serious financial trouble," said local businessman Richard Exley, who chaired Shepley Co-op's meetings during the takeover. "It should have been addressed before, but the horse had bolted. We didn't have any choice."

Mr Exley was part of a team of local people who came with experience in accounting, retailing and human resources to try to save the store. They recommended the best solution was to approach a larger co-operative.

There was some opposition, particularly from staff, but because Midlands had successfully taken over the store at Shepley village's garage, members were persuaded.

In June, 91 per cent of Shepley members voted in favour of the transfer of engagements. A further meeting in July confirmed this and Shepley Industrial and Provident Society traded for the last time on 1 August.

Just three weeks later, local resident Arthur Walton reopened the shop as a Midlands Co-operative food store, complete with new refrigeration and a cash machine, and which opens from 7am until 10pm, seven days a week.

Mr Exley said: "People miss the butchery and freshly made sandwiches, but the number of people coming through the door was dwindling. We used to close at 6pm on weekdays and 2pm on a Saturday.

"They've already tripled sales. There's more stock and it's fresher. It's brighter. Most people really like it."

All staff have been retained, apart from the manager, who chose to go, and structural problems on the building, including issues with the roof, have been repaired. The store has environmentally-friendly fixtures including low-energy LED lighting, double-glazing and energy efficient refrigeration cabinets.

Michael Spencer, general manager retail at Midlands Co-operative, said: “We are delighted with our new store in Shepley, which has received fantastic comments since the doors opened."

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