Hollins Green Community Store is the very personification of a community shop. Tim Murray looks at its fascinating history and discovers a group of people for whom working together is a way of life

Some “three years in the making”, Hollins Green Community Store, located near Warrington, Cheshire, is the perfect definition of a community shop.

In little more than 12 months since first opening its doors, the business is turning over up to £7,000 a week and has established itself firmly at the heart of the
local community.

“It’s become a real hub for the community,” says Julie, who herself, like many of the staff and volunteers at the store, has been a resident of Hollins Green all her life.

Run by Julie Atkinson, the store has become a focal point for residents, with unique features such as a book exchange service and a coffee area for locals to catch up with each other and all the latest gossip in the village. It is also an award-winning store, having recently scooped the Community Retailer of the Year gong at this year’s Pro-retail awards.

“We’ve not had something like this in the village before and it’s lovely to see people coming together.”

Julie says it all started when a parish plan was put together for the area. She explains: “A survey went out to the people of the village, with various questions, and the consensus was, the village wanted a shop.”

Steering groups were soon put together to get the proposed shop up and running. Julie says: “A lot of hard work went into it. We had to find premises, get funding and equip the shop with what we needed.”

Funding came from local action groups, the National Lottery and a loan from a
local business, with the not-for-profit enterprise paying back its start-up costs before going on to further support the community.

Julie says: “We just need to cover our costs. If we do make any profit in the future, it will go back into the shop or the community,” she says.

While the first year of trading has been “a huge learning curve”, Julie says several factors have helped get the store off to a successful start. For one, a big focus has been placed on appealing to the needs of local shoppers. This ranges from hiring 26 volunteers from the village and surrounding areas to help run the store, to stocking a large amount of high-quality products sourced from nearby producers.

The store is supplied by a local baker and even takes on products from two different butchers. “One specialises in pork pies and we sell 700 of them a week,” says Julie.

local-alcoholOther popular goods include ales produced by the local Dunham Massey Brewery. “They go down a storm. We’ve even got our own Hollis Green Village Shop label on the bottles, and a lot of people from the village want to give them as a gift,” she says.

In addition, Julie says the support she receives from Palmer & Harvey means she is able to offer a robust range of products to suit all tastes and price ranges.

“It’s quite a wealthy area but there are customers who come in on a budget. We have older customers who’ll do a bigger shop here – the nearest supermarket, a Tesco, is some four miles away – but others will come in for things like speciality cakes and biscuits.

“We do our best to source products  for the customers, whatever they want. All the feedback says we’re getting it right.”

Julie says future projects for the business will include raising money for a contingency fund, while there are further plans to involve the local school in allotments at the back of the store and sell the produce.

She concludes: “We haven’t had something like this in the village before and we’ve got a real rapport with the community. It’s nice to have that relationship and we’re now getting people coming to visit us from further afield too.”

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