A village shop ran by the community is in line for a national award – but for the volunteers, the real prize is the social cohesion it has fostered.
Sulgrave Village Shop has become the ‘hub’ of the community since being set up in 2004 after a privately-ran store shut two years earlier.
The converted ‘reading room’, which includes a Post Office and pretty much everything a customer could wish for, is a regional finalist in the village shop category of the 2019 Countryside Alliance Awards, known as the ‘rural Oscars’, out of 17,000 nominations.
Should they impress the judges and take the Midlands title, the team will be invited to the House of Lords in July, where the national winner will be announced.
Digby Lewis, who is part of the management committee, said: “It’s become more than just a shop, it’s become the social centre of the village as people come in, have a chat, and a coffee.
“So it’s really become an important part of the village, people have called it the beating heart of the village on more than one occasion.”
People have called it the beating heart of the village on more than one occasion.Digby Lewis
From fine wines, which is Digby’s noble responsibility, and freshly baked French croissants to newspapers and frozen vegetables, the shop somehow finds space for around 1,500 products in its 28 square metres.
Two part-time supervisors are supported by a small army of about 45 volunteers whose various expertise are put to every use, including merchandising, accounting, and all the other jobs that come with running a shop.
Village newcomers are invited to join the ranks, as well as youngsters to gain experience, while their plastic use is limited and reusable bags and coffee cups are promoted. Colin Wootton, who runs the village website – sulgrave.org – said he often finds himself spending ages to ‘nip to the shop’ due to the social buzz that going there brings.
Digby said this has helped to combat loneliness among elderly residents who can rely on a shop in their village for all their needs – something many pensioners cannot do.
The shop’s success has seen the Plunkett Foundation, an organisation that helps establish community-run enterprises in rural areas, use it as a model for other ventures across the UK.
In December, Sulgrave Village Shop was awarded second place in the Northamptonshire Campaign to Protect Rural England’s community awards – the highest-scoring village shop out of 60 entries in the competition.
It just seems like the perfect village shop, so why doesn’t every village have a shop like Sulgrave’s? Digby said: “We’ve got between 45 and 50 volunteers who put in about 100 hours a week. If you had to pay for that, then it wouldn’t work.
“So for a shop like this to be successful, only a community shop would work as the private ones are competing with the supermarkets and we’re not running for profit.
“The committee puts in a huge amount of effort.”