Page last updated at 15:12 GMT, Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Village shop milestone celebrated

By Andrew Dawkins
BBC News, West Midlands

The recession might be taking its toll elsewhere, but about 200 people have descended on a village shop to celebrate a success which is bucking the trend.

Sunday's birthday party at the village shop
A party was held to mark the first birthday of the shop

The first birthday of the community store in Barford, Warwickshire, was a triumph for locals who refused to give up when the previous village shop-keepers retired.

Local people have each paid £20 for a single share in the store.

"It was absolutely fantastic," manager Laura Taviner said.

"We had Champagne. We had a cake which was modelled on the shape of the shop. We all stayed late one night and made the cake."

It is that sort of community spirit which made the store happen.

And it was achieved in a climate in which an average of about 400 shops close a year in rural areas in England, according to the Plunkett Foundation, a charity which supports rural businesses.

'Having a gossip'

About 70 volunteers work at the Barford shop, which opened its doors in November 2008 in a new building on the village green.

The non-profit store cost about £250,000 to set up, money raised with the help of grants, fundraising activities and loans.

After the old village shop closed, people faced a six-mile round-trip to get a pint of milk.

The opening of the shop
The shop opened in November 2008

Ms Taviner said: "The whole of the community really missed having the shop, having a gossip and being able to meet people.

"We were just amazed we'd come so far. A lot of people who came on Sunday [to the party] have been there from the beginning.

"We serve between 1,300 and 1,500 a week.

"We are on course to achieve a £250,000 turnover in the first year of trading, which is way above original forecasts."

The shop, which also houses a separate post office business, uses local produce "wherever possible", including meat and milk.

It has newspapers, a bakery, cafe, outside seating and a free internet connection.

'Mix of people'

The manager is one of only two part-time paid members of staff.

She added: "One of the main aims was not only the community aspect, but also to improve the village's carbon footprint, so people don't have to get in their cars to go to places like Leamington and Warwick."

Snow in Barford
The shop stops people from having to drive to nearby towns

The Plunkett Foundation says it now has 220 community-owned shops in its directory, including 25 which have opened in 2009 - a record number for one year.

The charity manages a programme in partnership with other groups which provides grants.

Project assistant for rural community shops Harriet English said: "It's bucked the trend of a recession, but it's not surprising because it's a model that engages the community and the whole of the community is behind it.

"It [a shop] forms an informal support network for the more vulnerable members of the community.

"They [the shop schemes] tend to have a real mix of people, because it needs a range of skills to get the project off the ground.

"Ideally, a committee could have an accountant or solicitor and someone with marketing skills and people who are very passionate about their community."

The Barford shop is now planning a big Christmas party for its volunteers on a Strictly Come Dancing theme, but even after just a year in business, the store has already been judged a success.



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