The Revival of the Village Store
The 2021 ACS Rural Shop Report has revealed that rural shops are crucial to their local communities. In particular, in response to lockdowns, rural consumers have increasingly used their local shop for a wider range of products, with one in five reporting that they depend on their local shop more now than a year ago.
One such village shop is Clatfords Village Store. There has been a store on this site for decades. When the last shop owner and post-mistress (now the landlady) stood down about 15 years ago, the village formed a community association to take on the lease and run the shop and Post Office in order to preserve the facility. Following the new management team taking on the brief to run the store at the end of 2020, a wide-ranging customer survey was conducted to reassess community needs and wants in the store.
Chairman Nick Shorter, part of the new team management team, explains: "Part of that process determined that we needed to change the product offering, and to do that we wanted to bring in new services and change the layout of the shop. We had an ambition to use grant funding [Clatfords Village Store received community funding from both Test Valley Borough Council and Hampshire County Council] and some of the accumulated reserves to fund that refurbishment.
"Plans for that were well under way when in June this year we suffered a small, but catastrophic fire that meant the whole premises and all the stock had to be cleared out. This presented us with a blank canvas, and in addition to the original funding plans were added the insurance monies, as we needed to carry out a complete refit and refurbishment."
Out of the fire has risen a revitalised Village Store which, since its reopening last month, has been very well-received by the local community.
Nick continues: "As part of the refurbishment we were able to add significantly more chiller space adding extensively to our fresh produce ranges including more artisan products, bakery products, cheeses and chilled drinks. We created new seating areas outside to facilitate a community hub and meeting place, which complements a newly installed coffee machine providing fresh coffee. A complete review of what sold well was undertaken allowing us to provide more shelf space for popular products.
"Throughout lockdown the shop served as a lifeline to the village offering box delivery services to those who were shielding or unable to travel. Product lines were strengthened and adapted to meet the changing demands that lockdown brought. Today, as people’s ability to travel has returned to normal, most of the stock and services reflect the feedback from customers and the results of the initial survey undertaken at the start of our tenure.
"There has always been a policy to support local where possible. The feedback from the survey was very clear about a desire to see more local produce and the principles of the management team are very much that we are a community shop to serve the residents of our village and the wider community; so where we can do so with stock as well as service then we should wherever possible."
Clatfords Village Store is very much a community-enterprise supported by volunteers as well as customers. This valued facility is only possible because of the huge amount of time provided by the volunteer base. This includes the voluntary management board and over 60 volunteers who carry out all the daily functions of the shop - everything from till operation to cleaning and stock checking. They are ably co-ordinated by a paid shop management role, supported by two paid shop assistants.
Nick again: "The response to the refurbishment has been excellent! We had over 100 people from the village, the wider community and the team involved in the refurbishment present on the day of our grand re-opening on 11th September.
"We might be located in Goodworth Clatford, but we are the 'Clatfords' village store, with an emphasis on the 'S'. We serve as the only village store for both Clatford villages and the Anna Valley. Beyond that immediate geography we also provide newspaper delivery services to six villages as far as Longstock and Amport.
"The team’s intention is to provide that one-destination shop and create that meal-in-a-basket offering, enabling customers to pick a product they like then have the necessary accompaniments to complete the meal without shopping elsewhere! Expanding the chiller space has meant that both the scale of fresh produce offering and the subsequent demand have increased significantly. The benefit is a much higher throughput of fresh produce meaning more frequent custom and an ever fresher offering. Creating the seating area as a concept has meant that now we have customers and residents using the shop as a meeting place as well as a store which is wonderful to see."
Discover more village stores stocked with local, such as Cheriton Post Office & Village Stores; Chilbolton Village Stores; Enham Village Shop & Post Office; Everton Stores & Post Office; Headley Community Shop & Post Office; St Mary Bourne Village Shop & Post Office.