We are most grateful to Lara Madge for given an inspirational presentation at the share offer launch in Preston Candover Village Hall on 26 April 2018. If you read nothing else, Lara sums up perfectly in her closing remarks why we need a community store.
Here is what Lara had to say …
My name is Lara Madge – shop Manager at St Mary Bourne Village Shop, just outside of Whitchurch in Hampshire.
To give you some background on our shop. We are a community shop – operating as a CIC. We opened in the summer of 2001. After the last of our privately run village shops closed in 1998.
SMB is a purpose built shop, built on Parish Council land who charge a peppercorn rent every year. To start the shop we needed to raise £100,000 to get the shop built and for equipment and working capital. I understand that this is very similar to your set up – although 17 years on the amount needed to be raised has obviously increased!
Of the £100,000 – we raised it three ways:
£33,000 was raised by the community through ‘buying a brick’ and other events
Countryside Agency gave a grant for £25,000
Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council gave £50,000 (£25,000 awarded initially from a pool set up to help local shops but when no one else applied we were awarded all £50,000)
17 years later the shop is still going. It’s been a rocky road but it has clung on. There have been times only through life lines thrown by very generous donors have sometimes been the difference between closing and staying open. This is mainly due to one predominant factor that in turn gives way to another: poor management within both the shop and the shop committee, which can lead to apathy within the community.
I took over as Shop Manager a year ago having had previous experience managing Goodworth Clatford Village Store when that became a Community run store 13 years ago.
In the past twelve months the shop has grown in strength and has a current turnover of around £250,000 per annum.
We are in good shape, but we’re looking a little tired! All of our shelving, chillers and equipment (apart from the till) are 17 years old and it’s time for a refit.
To that end we are looking to raise £50,000 this year to completely refit the shop, get new chillers and freezers and to knock around internally so we can accommodate a couple of tables and chairs.
This is going to be a massive task for us and we are looking into grants now.
Fundraising has always been and still is essential to our existence. We are a little different from most village shops in that we employ 4 part time staff. Of our costs, staffing is our biggest but we also rely on volunteers. More about both our staffing and volunteers later.
To fundraise, we hold events and have two other schemes that run each year. The first is our Membership. This is annual and costs £10 to become a member. For this members get newsletters emailed to them twice a year and will be invited to shop events such as Taster Evenings, AGM, etc.
The second is our 100 Club. We have 100 numbers which people can buy for £25 a number and they get entered into a draw each month to win cash prizes of £50, £20 and £10.
We try and work with other village organisations as much as possible and have donations from other village events such as our Village Show and a Jazz Garden Party proceeds. I am also working with our Primary School at the moment to see if the children could design some art work for the shop to brighten it up.
As I mentioned earlier, we, like every other village store, relies on Volunteers. We have, however, chosen to not rely on them completely. We currently employ 4 part time members of staff, including myself, who cover the complete time the shop and post office are open. This means volunteers are never left by themselves.
We do this, mainly, to man the Post Office, for which we have found it difficult to get volunteers but I know other shops who don’t have this problem. Our volunteers mainly work behind the till but for those who are not ‘customer facing orientated’ we have cleaning rotas, date checking duties and other odd jobs.
In total we have around 20 volunteers, of which, around 15 volunteer their time weekly. In preparation of coming here tonight I asked a few of them why they volunteer and what they love the best…. Without exception the answers were because they realise the importance of keeping the village shop going and that they love the interaction with other people and the giggle we have. It is fun. A village shops most valuable asset is a smiling face when you walk in.
Last year, the shop made a profit of £1,000. This included £11,000 of fundraising money. Our profit is not big (especially when you take into account £11,000 was fundraised!) but can be attributed to one main factor which is our staffing costs for the Post Office..
We run a Post Office Local from our shop which means we do all the basic tasks such as stamps, parcels, bureau de change and cash withdrawal but don’t offer things like vehicle licencing.
The Post Office is not economical to operate – however it is vital for any village. The reason our shop needs to rely on fundraising events is because of the post office but it is the one thing that we would not want to give up. There are many in our village who don’t have their own transport and with the dwindling rural public transport, the service our Post Office offers them is invaluable.
The village next to ours is called Hurstbourne Tarrant. It has a privately owned shop who recently changed hands. The new owner decided it wasn’t financially viable to run the post office so closed it. The village were in uproar and we now take the vast majority of their business – not only Post Office business but shop too.
To give you an idea of what it costs to run the Post Office – we get annual commission of approximately £5,500 but staffing the Post Office alone costs us £19,000. The Shop (with it’s fundraising) sponsors the Post Office to the tune of approximately £14,000 per annum. But still it is a vital service.
Why bother? …
You are about to embark on a massive project. It will take hard work, determination and a good measure of frustration.. so why bother?
Apart from the obvious convenience of having a village store within walking distance for many or a short drive for some there are a huge range of benefits.
True believer that a village store is bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s not only there as a convenience when you run out of milk or bread, or if you have a sudden urge for a bar of chocolate or delicious biscuits or when you suddenly decide to do a bit of baking but realise you don’t have any eggs.
It’s also a hub of a community. It’s a place where you have morning banter with those whom you live amongst when you collect your morning paper.
It’s a place to meet friends and chat over village life with a coffee and cake.
It’s a place to find out what’s happening in your area and local services on offer.
It’s a place where young people can participate in work experience and get to know the older generation.
It’s a place where new people to the area can get to know more people and make friends.
A proper village shop has heart. It knows when Phyliss, who was 90 this year, hasn’t been in to the shop and will go and knock on her door to make sure everything is OK. It will know that Daphne has just come out of hospital after an op so will give her a call to see if she needs anything delivered and it will coo and make a fuss of 2 month old Grace who has just been born to single mum Emma and will know that secretly Emma’s finding it tough.
That is what a village shop does….. it cares. And that is worth all the money, effort and frustration in the world. It makes the difference between a village and a community.