There’s plenty of reasons for positivity in our rural communities.
Back in 2011 White House Stores was on the brink. Administration beckoned and by December the business was broken, bills impossible to pay and the retailer riddled with problems. Down came the shutters on the 60-year-old business, and so the Norfolk village of Neatishead was left without a shop.
According to the Plunkett Foundation this happens hundreds of times every year, their research suggesting that we’ll see around 400 rural stores disappear in 2015. Pubs don’t fare much better either according to figures from CAMRA, their research suggesting that around 20 rural pubs stop trading every month.
Bleak stats they paint a sorry picture of our rural communities, high rents, dwindling footfall and expanding supermarkets ransacking our village high streets. Take a trip to Neatishead today though and you’ll find the green shoots of a revolution, villagers fighting back and rebuilding their community…
White House Stores reopens its doors
By summer 2012 the villagers of Neatishead were fed up with their isolation. Buying even the most basic supplies involved a trip out of the village, with residents barely crossing paths in the high street anymore.
Determined to improve things the villagers came up with a plan, their aim to reopen White House Stores and revitalise the community. They clubbed their cash together, secured a grant and in 2013 their village store was back. But this time as a co-operative, with the shop owned by a voluntary committee.
Two paid managers now run the shop with the help of a team of volunteers, local produce favoured in order to support the local economy. The shop runs small events like cake mornings to bring the community together, and it’s committed to giving local youths essential work experience.
A co-operative rural economy?
Far from being confined to just the Norfolk Broads, it appears that hundreds of community run stores are flourishing across the UK. Positive stats from the Plunkett Foundation suggest that there’s now 325, with an average of 22 new shops opening every year since 2009.
Looking at the financials they appear to be thriving too, data suggesting that like-for-like sales were up by 5.3% in 2014. In contrast major supermarkets like Tesco and Morrisons saw falls of -3.6% and -5.9% respectively - just like independents in our towns and cities our rural retailers are bucking the trend.
The Everyone Owns It Arms
And its not just village stores that are falling into community ownership. Further figures from the Plunkett Foundation suggest that the UK now boasts 33 co-operative pubs, with 2014 alone seeing a 43% growth in the total number. Only four were known of prior to 2010, but since then regulars have bought up an impressive 29 in total.
Even more impressively there’s been no co-operative pub closures in the UK to date, with this type of ownership achieving a survival rate of 100% - a staggering stat when put into comparison with CAMRA’s figures on pub closure.
Clearly its still early days in the co-operative revolution, but the early signs look positive and suggest its here to stay. Just like our trade checker shows us time and time again there’s plenty of reason for positivity, this latest research revealing the spirit of our rural communities.
Best watch your step supermarkets and soulless big chain boozers…
Visit the Plunkett Foundation for more advice and inspiration on how to create your own community co-operative.