West Meon Community Shop - February 2009
West Meon Community Shop in the Meon Valley, Hampshire, has become a thriving community facility despite its Post Office being reduced to an 8 hours a week Outreach service in April 2008.
The evolution into this successful shop took place following two separate phases: firstly, a campaign to save and refurbish the shop which began in 2006; secondly, a bid to develop the facility in 2008 by renovating an unconverted store at the rear of the premises to provide an internet café, drop in meeting point and Tourist Information Source.
The latter phase was funded by grants from Hampshire County Council and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) through the Village Community Grants Scheme, and The South Downs Joint Committee’s Sustainable Development Fund. This has enabled the shop to expand its services to provide much-needed community facilities.
In 2005, the village shop tenant decided to seek semi-retirement and sold the business. Shortly afterwards, the sub-postmaster decided to retire and sought a buyer willing to take on the Post Office business. The shop struggled under new ownership, deteriorated, and there were no offers to take on the PO. Against this background, several villagers clubbed together to buy out the existing shop tenant and applied to have the PO relocated into the village shop premises.
ViRSA provided invaluable advice and support for the first phase. The village team was successful in assuming the shop lease and securing funding to cover the purchase of the business, dilapidations and repairs, equipment and other associated capital costs.
Initial funding was provided by several village families who committed to underwrite a major amount of the capital required on the basis of an interest free loan with no termination date. The team set about seeking additional funding. Established in 2006, West Meon Community Shop Association has raised a total of £39,750 in the community and £91,500 in grants, including funds from HCC.
The first phase was completed at the end of 2006. The flat above has been restored and let, providing an income for the shop, whilst a manageress has been employed to run the shop, a move which has secured the employment of existing staff.
West Meon Community Shop Association was awarded £20,000 in July 2008 under Hampshire County Council’s Village Community Grant Scheme. This offers funding to rural businesses to help increase the use of village shops and/or to create new community-led stores, particularly in villages which are losing Post Offices.
Renovation work for the second phase proceeded immediately funding was granted in July 2008, and included a complete new floor, ceilings, kitchen equipment, an outside lavatory, along with two workstations and computers. The premises re-opened on August 17. The Outreach Post Office service operates twice weekly.
The shop has evolved to encompass a wide range of services within the heart of the community, including an internet café, IT training facilities and workshops for older members of the community to teach them how to communicate by e-mail, use the web and master software such as Microsoft Word. In addition to providing older residents with a key drop-in meeting point, the shop champions local produce – including that of Hampshire Fare members – acts as a direct outlet for producers and a Tourist Information Point, promoting the South Downs Way, Old Winchester Hill and surrounding area.
Pamela Collins, West Meon Community Shop Association
“It’s been a steep learning curve, but hugely worthwhile. We are incredibly grateful to the County Council not only for awarding such a significant sum of money, but also for continued support to help us diversify.
“As well as providing access to basic services, it has created a point of social contact, which has strengthened community spirit and cohesion, provided employment and training, supported local producers and encouraged diversification. We have a high percentage of elderly people who rely on the local shop because we are 10 miles from Petersfield, Alton and Winchester.
“It took off from day one; it’s amazing howpopular the café has become with everyone from mums wanting a restorative cuppa after the school run and builders dropping in for the Big Breakfast fry-up, to ladies that lunch, older members of the community… who order endless pots of tea, and weekend cyclists refuelling with sticky cakes and coffee. One gentleman comes in for an hour each week to research his family tree.”
Interested parties from as far away as Devon and Dorking have contacted Pamela seeking advice on the successful outcome of this project.
Carol Westmacott and Rebecca Butler run the café independently, making all the food on the premises using local produce wherever possible. They offer a takeaway service too, which benefits cyclists and walkers. Instead of paying rent, they contribute 10% of their turnover each quarter, therefore the more successful their business, the more income is generated for the community shop, plus the method allows greater flexibility than a set rent.
The grant to West Meon Community Shop is a great example of how a village community, with the support of its local authorities and other partners, can help itself retain a vital community facility and enhance it to provide access to vital services which meet the needs of today’s village residents, particularly the elderly or those without public transport.
West Meon’s next step is to enhance services by becoming a Hampshire County Council Customer Access Point (CAP). There are more than 100 of these public offices across the county providing easy access to information about services provided by the County Council and other public bodies and organisations. Leaflet racks have been provided and stocked with a wide variety of up to date information for customers to browse.
The aim of the Village Community Grant Scheme is not to simply replace the footfall of lost Post Offices, but to revitalise villages, making them more sustainable and viable in the long term
The Village Community Grant Scheme was developed by HCC Economic Development Office with funding form SEEDA and HCC. It is targeted primarily at villages with fewer than 5,000 residents, with applications welcome from community associations, village shop associations, parish or district councils and formal voluntary associations. Private businesses may apply if they have the written support of their parish council. The County Council, in partnership with Community Action Hampshire, the Hampshire Association of Local Councils and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA), is running the scheme until June 2011.
Over 12 grants have now been awarded under the Village Community Grant Scheme to other village shops since April 2008. These grants have been awarded for a range of new shop services including a new shop and Post Office Counter, new chiller, coffee machines, freezer, new Deli Counter, purchase of a van for deliveries to business parks and isolated customers, and grants have also been awarded to Community Associations to purchase village shops.
Business Development Manager
Economic Development Office
Hampshire County Council
The Castle, Winchester, S023 8UJ
tel 01962 845767