When Creaton nearly lost its local shop, the community came together to find a way to save it. Villager Charles Matts tells RN’s Megan Humphrey about the journey
Many stores claim to be much-loved by their communities, but Creaton Village Shop and Post Office really is. In fact, it is only thanks to the support of 500 villagers – their £80,000 investment – and a ‘Save Our Shop’ campaign that it opened its doors at all.
A month after its grand opening, the plan to have a local shop that both serves and is owned by its community is starting to be realised.
“Our aim is to eventually have all of our fresh produce locally sourced,” says Charles Matts, chair of Creaton Village Store management committee. The store is already filled with chillers and shelves of enticing jars, packets and bags. “Right now, our milk, vegetables, ice cream, muesli, jam and alcohol are all produced in Creaton or other neighbouring Northamptonshire villages,” he adds.
The shop is the only convenience store situated along a 16-mile stretch of road, so it is no surprise that 98% of villagers voted in favour of its opening.
“It all started four years ago, when the shop owners of the original village store announced their retirement,” explains Charles. “After receiving no offers for two years, the owners expressed their concern to the parish council that the village was at risk of being left without a shop.”
However, after watching a presentation from the Plunkett Foundation, a community-support charity, Charles and six others were inspired. They realised that the loss of the store would have a huge effect on the local residents, economy and life in Creaton. They also realised that they could come together to do something about it. Charles and the other villagers set up a campaign – ‘Save Our Shop’.
“With the support from the village, we set up Creaton Community Benefit Society. We pressed on with researching grant and loan opportunities, preparing to present our vision to 100 people in the community hall,” says Charles. “At that meeting, we received a staggering £63,000 non-binding pledge, despite us not having a location.”
We are gradually squeezing some lines down and introducing new ones, but we are really cautious of not running before we can walk
Fast forward two years, the community’s investment has risen to £80,000 – made up from community shares bought for as little as £20. Charles says: “The way that our store works is that everyone can buy a share for £20, but if you buy multiple shares you still only get one vote – people are at different stages and we didn’t want to feel that we were asking for an amount that people couldn’t afford. But we did have a number of investments that were in the thousands of pounds.”
Added to this, a £57,000 EU grant and another £10,000 from The National Lottery has secured the store’s future. The 500sq ft wooden-pannelled store now sits in the back garden of a Creaton resident who charges £1 a year rent.
Yet, while financial security is closer at hand, the design of the store reflects the long-term need for flexibility in its location. “Luckily, one of our com-mittee members is a property developer and had already built an office using structural integrated panels,” adds Charles. “After some thought, we decided to go with it. It is very efficient, looks attractive and is modular, which means we can move it. Yes, it is costlier than a portacabin, but it definitely adds to the customer and staff experience.”
The store is able to stay open seven days a week thanks to the 30 volunteers and three members of staff that have been recruited. However, as time goes on, they are working out how to meet the needs of their new base.
“The community is our main source of trade, but we do get a lot of passing trade,” says Charles. “Although our community can tell us what they want, the passing trade wants something different, usually an on-the-go offering.
“This is why our biggest challenge right now is maintaining our stock. It is fantastic that we are emptying our shelves, but we need to adapt to changing consumer habits. Usually,we go off with a shopping list to our wholesaler once a week, but we have had to start going more regularly because we don’t have the storage.
“We are gradually squeezing some lines down and introducing new ones, but we are really cautious of not running before we can walk.”
Charles now says his proudest moment so far has been store’s grand opening – an event that brought together local businesses, residents, music and food: “Although I was naïve about how much of a learning curve this would be, we have brought back the social hub of the community which we were at threat of losing.”