CANDOVER VALLEY VISIT TO WEST SUSSEX SHOPS STUDY TOUR
17 February 2014 funded by Hampshire County Council
Thanks to a kind offer from Hampshire CC, a funded visit took place on Mon 17 February, with four representatives of the Candover Valley (CV) community shop committee visiting Milland, Kirdford and Lodsworth community shops in West Sussex. The visit was facilitated by Helen Melia, Community Adviser for the Plunkett Foundation.
The purpose of the visit was to show the CV committee some examples of community shops that are in unusual premises (two are new-built, one in a converted apple-growers’ building), and that have achieved very high levels of success, including high turnovers and winning national awards.
The visit was designed to show the CV committee that an ambitious plan can work even in quite small villages, and that there are some very successful new examples of rural retailing to follow.
We visited Milland first (which opened in 2011), and had coffee in their cafe area. Milland is remarkable for several reasons:
- It raised funds via its Parish Council and a Public Works Loan;
- It is architect-designed as a standalone community village shop;
- It has been designed to be light, airy, with ground-source heat pump and a modular approach to the design, and it has recently been extended;
- It is a very attractive design featuring a lot of natural wood, large green-oak beams and bespoke shelving units;
- It is positioned next to the village hall and the recreation ground, and shares the village hall parking.
The meeting lasted for nearly two hours with Philip Watts, Milland’s chairman, who shared a great deal of information about the shop’s setting-up phase, and how the parish council supported the proposal. The shop (floor space, including storage, approx 130 sq m) has a turnover of approx £180,000, serving a village of around 800. Its stock is varied and they are now offering own-label wines, locally baked cakes and quiches for the cafe, and they cater for a lot of cyclists and walking groups.
Second on the list was Kirdford Village Stores (opened 2010 and already a multi-award winner including Daily Telegraph, Best Small Business in the UK, Village Shop Award). Kirdford Village Stores is housed in a more substantial building, which was formerly the Kirdford apple-growers’ headquarters. It is remarkable for several reasons:
- Its turnover, despite serving a village of only 250 households plus outlying hamlets and not having any passing trade, has now reached £500,000 (from approx 230 sq m);
- It stocks a high level of local produce and very good selection of fruit and veg;
- It has a meeting room that is offered out for all kinds of community purposes.
Sue Ransley, the chair of the association, took us through the set-up, staffing and volunteering issues, the legal structure (an IPS with 250 shareholders), and we had a delicious lunch prepared in the kitchen, with good coffee. The emphasis at Kirdford is on abundance of quality produce, not necessarily all top-end and quite often very competitive against the supermarkets.
Last to be visited was Lodsworth Larder which is a remarkable building designed and built by Ben Law. Again a multi-award winner including several national awards, its features include:
- A turnover of £250,000 from a floor space of little more than 55 sq m;
- Low carbon e.g. photovoltaic tiles, recycling of grey water;
- Unique design and rustic oak beams, giving a wonderful atmosphere;
- Excellent stock in its delicatessen and a lot of local produce.
Martin Lester, the chair of the association (again an IPS with shareholders) spent some time with us explaining the way the shop was funded (it cost £160,000 to build and stock) and also offered to share their business plan.
All three shops are staffed by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers (Kirdford has the most staff, naturally, as they have such a high turnover) and all three shops do not have a post office but instead run a system of full postal services (including special delivery, recorded delivery, national and international post and parcels) via a Royal Mail business contract. Lodsworth also offers itself as a post collection point to the village.
All the shops were notable too for their interaction with the community on many different levels e.g. displaying local artists, selling local events tickets, “knit-and-natter” clubs etc.
The CV group enjoyed the visit and came away with many different ideas and new approaches to issues such as community engagement, successful village retailing with an emphasis on local produce, and the need for community spaces and cafe facilities to overcome rural isolation.