The Community Shop

The gala opening of the Community ShopThose of you that listen to The Archers on Radio 4 will know that Ambridge is in the throes of setting up a Community Shop. Here in Sheepwash we’re years ahead – our Shop was opened as a community venture in 2001.

From August 2000 until July 2001 Sheepwash didn’t have a shop and it was missed.

Jill and Brian Thomas ran the Mermaid Stores, Sheepwash Post Office and a Bed and Breakfast business from Mermaid House until mid 2000, when they closed the shop and Post Office as they were retiring. They secured permission for change of use and intended to convert the shop to a reception room.

In January 2001 Vinnie and Chris Vincent bought Mermaid House, including the shop area.

Buster Jones felt that the village was ‘less’ without a shop and had the idea of a Community venture. Vinnie and Chris agreed to rent the shop area to the Community and the Sheepwash Community Shop Committee was formed. Ron Booth, who’s recently moved to Okehampton, was its Chairman (Frank Cheshire has now taken over) and the Committee members were Caroline Moast, Frank Cheshire, Chris Vincent, Anna and Buster Jones, and Heather Hillman, who lived in Sheepwash at the time. Heather had experience of writing grant applications and was instrumental in securing a government grant of £25,000 for the refurbishment of the shop area and for fittings and fixtures. In those days rural post offices were not under threat and The Post Office was pleased to re-open and fund the re-equipment of the post office within the shop.

The Sheepwash Community Shop and Post Office re-opened in July 2001 with an opening ceremony and street party. Chris Vincent was offered the post of Manageress of the shop, The Post Office trained her as a post mistress and she ran the venture for the next 5 years, job sharing with Lynne Ellwood after 3 years and then with Sally-Ann Phillips, both of whom were trained as sub post mistresses.

Christine White agreed to become the manageress and post mistress early in 2006. She had worked as a post mistress in Kent before moving to Sheepwash. As we know, she continues in this role today, ably assisted by her husband, Roger.

From the outset volunteers were used to help with the running of the shop, and at an early stage it became clear that weekend opening would be difficult without some small payment being made to the weekend ‘volunteers’. This arrangement continues. There are 10 volunteer shop assistants – Roger White, Paulette Jackson, Anna Jones, Chris Vincent, Margaret Hall, Caroline Moast, Alison Ansell, Hilary Manning, Erica Fisher and Linda Fenn. Jean Jones was a volunteer until recently and Jo Driver helps out on an occasional basis. There are only two paid part-time employees in the shop – Christine and Sally-Ann.

The rent the shop pays to the Vincents is small and hasn’t changed since the Community Shop opened. All utilities for the shop premises are paid for by the venture, and after wages and sales, the shop breaks-even. Fundraising activities are needed (such as the recent Wine & Wisdom, and the Safari Suppers) to help purchase replacement fridges and freezers.

We all know that the Community Shop isn’t as cheap as the supermarkets in Okehampton, Hatherleigh and Holsworthy (although actually milk, eggs and a number of other products are cheaper), but just think, it costs £5 in petrol to get to and from Okehampton – and sometimes you can’t get there at any cost. During the snowy period earlier in the year countless people said how invaluable our village shop was. Various people popped in to pick up provisions for those not wanting to risk going out in the snow and staff were willing to drop goods round as well. It’s things like this that make Sheepwash the ‘special’ village that it is.

The facilities within Sheepwash – the shop, post office, village hall, church, chapels and the pub – add more than just the direct services offered; they contribute to the social interaction and vibrancy of this rural community, enabling people not only to meet but, importantly, to support each other. It is also worth noting that the existence of these facilities increases the house values in the village.

If you’ve got any suggestions for improving the services and range of goods offered by the shop, please let a member of the Shop Committee know – they’re always interested in ideas, but obviously have to think about cost effectiveness. The Shop Committee is looking for new members – if you’re interested please let Anna Jones know (Sloe Cottage, 231498 or anna@downfarm.freeserve.co.uk).

Our shop needs as much custom as possible to survive – please use it regularly.

Alison Ansell

April 2010 (Spring issue)