04 February 2019, 11:24 AM
  • Community-owned shops are waning, but there's much to be gained says Beverley Griggs of Wrabness Community Shop
“We work as a big family”

New research from the Plunkett Foundation suggests the honeymoon period for community shops is over, with numbers of active shops in decline for the first time since records began. The struggle is real, agree those involved in the sector, but a community element to retail can answer societal issues of loneliness and isolation.

Wrabness Community Shop, a rural store launched in 2011 when this Essex village lost its Post Office, is thriving, and has lessons for retailers keen to bolt a community element onto their business. Beverley Griggs, chair of the shop’s trustees since day one, shares her thoughts:

The shop has definitely bought the community together and we work as a big family, which is heart warming. It conquers loneliness for some and gives others a reason to get up. It promotes a sense of good that can sometimes be overlooked in these times. Our great community’s hard work is the reason the project has gone from strength to strength since 2011. That and a very tight eye on the finances.

The committee and volunteers are always thinking of new ideas to attract customers and fulfil their needs. As long as we have inventive and positive volunteers the customers seem to be very happy with all that we offer. It’s all about the community, so we try to implement all the things in the shop that attract and help the customer: coffee facilities, WIFI, toilet, great stock and gifts, promotion of our village and a great place to meet groups or friends.

Attracting volunteers to work for free on a regular basis is probably one of the hardest things we have had to overcome. Our volunteers are amazing but few have worked in retail; training 40 people with diverse abilities can be challenging. Most of our volunteers are retired and some had no IT skills; I have to say they have done brilliantly. Many people are so busy now, even in retirement, so keeping all the opening hours covered is an ongoing challenge.

Funding to start and maintain the project is also very difficult. Many grants and schemes no longer exist due to the financial state of the country, so volunteers have to work hard to either raise money or look for grants. That takes some skill and time. We are very careful with our finances and have put a huge amount of effort into streamlining everything to work in the most efficient and cost-effective way.

The hardest thing for me personally, and many others, is fitting the ten hours a week the shop requires around my full time job. Not having one owner, a community shop has to form a committee that will work together unpaid to run a difficult and challenging business. And comply with all the legislation and red tape. People really step up; taking on the licence and trustee roles comes with great responsibility and possible consequences should anything go wrong.

Does your retail business interact with community projects? Send your comments to editorial@specialityfoodmagazine.com

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