Community Shop

The rise of the community shop

by Julian Jordan

There’s a reasonable chance that if you live in a rural or semirural area, you’re aware of the growth of the community shop – you may even shop in one!

Community-owned shops seem to have come of age recently – the austerity of the last decade has seen the closure of many amenities and this has coincided with the closure of many shops and post offices.

There is a growing scepticism about huge retail operations and their social and environmental impact. In response, many communities are organising things for themselves – reopening pubs, post offices, libraries and community centres – often with a shop offering.

Many community shops have been supported by the Plunklett Foundation – the organisation is celebrating its centenary this year.

Sue Boer from the Plunkett Foundation says that people’s initial motivations often develop beyond the idea of simply saving essential services.

“The impact will reach far beyond the shopping basket. Deep into the heart of residents’ lives, providing, for many, a place to go that will help to reduce their isolation, give them a focal point and hub for information, companionship and sense of belonging.


“It is in response to the social impact that many community businesses are growing beyond being a shop to include a diverse range of services that reflect the needs of their communities. From cafes, Box Office and book exchanges to art classes, education and reading groups, to name but a few!”

According to figures from the Plunkett Foundation, there are over 350 community shops in the UK which in 2017 had an average turnover of £161,874. On average each shop creates four paid jobs and 30 volunteer opportunities. Critically, they are sustainable businesses, with the longterm survival rate of community shops standing at 94 per cent.

Across the North of England community shops are thriving and two have opened in recent months – East Morton Community Shop in West Yorkshire and Trawden Community Shop in Lancashire.

The small, picturesque village of East Morton looks like a beautiful place to live. It’s full of beautiful properties and well situated for commuters. However, the downside – as with many provincial villages – is a lack of amenities. The last shop in the village – that also operated as a post office – closed ten years ago.

The nearest shop today – an express version of a supermarket chain is over a mile away. Some locals decided to take matters into their own hands and the result is a wonderful, petite community shop in the former public toilets!

East Morton Community Shop
L-R Kathy Symes – volunteer, Vicky Sutcliffe – Assistant Manager, Sheila Barton – management committee member from East Morton Community Shop

Sheila Barton is one of eight team members on the shop’s management committee. On the matter of the public toilet she jokes: “The village didn’t want it closed but we were asked to provide volunteers for cleaning and upkeep. It’s not the most exciting volunteer job in the world!”

“It would probably have been demolished and become a car park.”

Sheila who has a background in local government, added: “It’s been a huge learning curve – that’s the beauty of volunteering. No-one here has a background in retail.”

“We planned to provide a community shop that was also a social hub. Even though it’s tiny, we put the small table by the drinks machine, so people can stop and have a cup of tea,” said Sheila.