Village creates community store in response to closures and pandemic

Locals in Whitley and Shaw banded together after the local store and cafe closed at the start of the pandemic

Locals in a Wiltshire village have launched a community store to offer essential goods and create focal point for residents.

The venture, in Whitley and Shaw, aims “to establish a community-owned and run shop which can be an essential service and focal point for the whole village providing a range of fresh local produce and everyday essentials”.

Local products stocked include Wiltshire Chilli Farm sauces and Kettlesmith Brewing Company beers ; the store also tries to reduce its environmental footprint by prioritising options packaged in easily recycled glass or tin, not plastic, and offering environmentally friendly ranges of cleaning and household products. It is also investigating the feasibility of a refill service.

Nathan Hall, chair of Shaw and Whitley Community Hub, said the village has lost its only shop and cafe at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic – and there was a planning application to turn the site to residential housing, losing the amenity forever.

This came at a time when local services were more vital then ever. “A lot of people – like me – had been commuting daily out of the village and now found ourselves working from home every day and spending much more time walking around the village,” said Mr Hall. “During the early months of the pandemic it hit home how important the village shop and a cafe space was for our community. 

“A small group of us got together and started to develop a vision for a community shop and cafe that could be a real social hub for our village, and something positive to develop during what has been a very difficult time. 

“We were also keen to take our own action, not to stand back and allow the village to lose something important but to say if we want a shop, let’s create a shop.  Lets use the skills we have in the village to help ourselves.”

A steering group of six people was formed, contacted the Plunkett Foundation, the support body for rural community businesses, which provided an advisor to work up an action plan. 

The group also got to work convincing the parish council about the value of the project. “We undertook a really extensive survey of all 500+ houses in our village,” said Mr Hall, “which got a 67% response rate and told us a lot about views in the community – and helped to convince sceptics that there was a strong desire for a basic convenience store in the village.”

The group did not succeed in buying the shop site but have managed to lease space there from the buyer, before launching a community share scheme to get the scheme off the ground, with a minimum target of £24,000 and a maximum of £40,000. 

“In four weeks during June 2021 we raised £35,000 topped up with £5,000 from the local area board. About 150 local residents bought shares,” said Mr Hall. “Our next step was to recruit a team of volunteers to make the venture work. During July we recruited and trained 40 volunteers both to serve behind the counter and to undertake tasks behind the scenes such as maintenance, ordering, shop displays and volunteer coordination. 

“By August we were ready to go and opened on Saturday 14th August, less than a year since forming the steering group.”

The group has had “crucial” advice and support from other community businesses, mostly via Plunkett Foundation, and has visited the successful community shop at the nearby village of Bathford. 

The store is running a Village Veg project

“Plunkett run a Facebook Network for community shops which is brilliant for advice,” added Mr Hall. “It’s likely that every problem we face as a developing community business somebody else has already overcome.”

Local response has been positive, he said. “Our sales figures look promising, better than we’d hoped. People love being able to walk to a store to get a daily newspaper and a pint of milk, rather than have to drive a few miles to the nearest town. 

“Our volunteers have been great – the heartbeat of the shop, really. There’s also a lot of interest from local people who grow veg, who love dropping a basket of their produce in to be sold in the store at a price set by the customer – I can really see the village veg idea taking off.”