The Village Shop - a thriving community enterprise in Ashton Hayes
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 February 2014
Last month we at Cheshire Life pledged our support for Prince Charles’s Countryside Fund. We meet villagers of Ashton Hayes and Mouldsworth who have been helped by the Fund to save their local shop
Four years ago, the people of Ashton Hayes faced a problem familiar to rural communities up and down the land - the loss of the village shop.
The owner had tried to sell the general store and post office as a going concern, but there were no takers. Ashton Hayes and nearby Mouldsworth - two villages near Chester with a population of around 1,200 - looked set to lose a facility upon which many people relied.
‘The nearest shop is in Kelsall, which is three miles away, and we don’t have any public transport links with Kelsall,’ says Lisa Allman. ‘We’ve got a large elderly population, so some people do rely on the shop for their weekly shopping. Those people would have been completely stuck. We don’t have any bus service in the village and the nearest train station is a mile away from Ashton in Mouldsworth.’
Four years on, the villagers can reflect that the threat of losing the shop brought out the best in them. The Village Shop is now a thriving community enterprise, run jointly by volunteers and paid staff. One of those volunteers, Kate Harrison, the company secretary, is now a mentor for other communities hoping to take charge of their village shop. Kate was trained as a mentor by the Plunkett Foundation, through support from the Prince’s Countryside Fund.
Lisa was one of those who rallied to the cause four years ago. She led the steering group which set up the shop and is now chair of its management committee.
‘The parish council suggested a community shop, and did a survey to see if there was the impetus to take it on, and did research with the Plunkett Foundation to see what other communities had done,’ says Lisa, aged 45, who has two teenage children and is a pharmacist.
So Lisa had retail experience, and others brought their own skills to the mix. Kate, aged 61 and recently retired, was manager of a council training centre and so was used to managing budgets, people and projects.
‘Most community shops at the time we were looking were down south or in the Lake District,’ says Lisa. ‘The only other one in Cheshire was at Antrobus, which was very much smaller than our shop.
‘We wanted to provide a newsagent’s, general store and off licence, giving the village what they wanted at a competitive price. If we were not competitive, people would just get in their cars and drive to Tesco or Sainsbury’s.
‘We revamped the premises and relaunched the shop. Over the three years, we’ve developed our product ranges and we try to support as many local businesses as possible. So we have fresh meat from the butcher in the next village, fresh fruit and veg some of it grown locally. We’ve got a supplier of home-made cakes in the village.’
Open 7.30am to 6pm every weekday, 8am to 5pm on Saturday and 8am to 12noon on Sunday, the Village Shop employs a manager and three part-time staff, helped by up to 30 volunteers doing regular shifts and another 20 volunteers providing holiday cover and other tasks such as bookkeeping.
And did the community support their shop? ‘We projected our figures for the first three years and did not expect to make a profit,’ says Lisa. ‘But we did make a profit in the first year, broke even in the second year and made a profit again in the third year.The profit is being reinvested in the business to make sure we are improving.’
Kate adds: ‘We get a lot of people coming to look at what we’ve done now. We spend some time with them, telling them how it’s all set up, and we’re on the end of the phone if people want to ring up with questions.
‘We’ve got several community-owned projects in the area. Our pub’s been empty for six months, so we’ve got our eye on that now.’