This month we feature Halstock Village Shop. As you step towards the shop door, there’s an overwhelming sense of community spirit. I’m not sure why that is – and then I met the team, says Rachael Rowe.
Tony Woodroffe is the Director of the community shop, Bardy Griffiths is the Chair of the Community Shop Committee, and Barry Dennis is the shop manager. Halstock is also one of the best-stocked village shops I have seen (like a Tardis). There’s a constant trail of people stocking up on local goods. I talk to Tony and Bardy in the large community room at the back of the shop.
What’s the story of the shop?
We’ve been going since 1991 and we were one of the very first community shops. When the previous owners retired in 1990, a group of people in the village got together to see what they could do to keep a shop. Funds were raised, and the (recently deceased) Betty Harris drove to Yeovil with £200 to buy stocks to get things going.
We got funding and support from the Plunkett Foundation. Two of our funders, Derek Smith and Richard Fry, were instrumental in getting the shop up and running and they advised other community shops around the country.
As the business grew, we raised funds to purchase land, enabling us to get the current building and community room in 2013. Two flats above the shop bring in rent. We would have struggled without that community room in the pandemic because of all the deliveries. The shop is run under the Halstock Village Trust, and profits are ploughed straight back into the village. I’ll never forget the first day. We took £200, and I didn’t have a card machine!
And then we found Barry, our manager. I don’t know what we’d do without him. He is marvellous.
How big is the team?
We have 20 volunteers and three paid staff, including a manager and the assistant manager.
Is there a shop pet?
“Pets? Pets? No pets are allowed in this shop. We don’t have any mice either!”
What’s flying off the shelves at the moment?
Barry smiles. “It’s strange for this time of year, but cakes and biscuits are still popular. People are still after their post-Christmas treats! We have always done well with dairy, and our cheeses are popular.”
Tell us about your local suppliers.
We have pretty much everything here. It starts with someone asking Barry if we can get something, and it ends up being supplied. First, there’s bread from Mortimers and Liberty Farm Milk. Then, we get sausages from Sam’s Pigs in Halstock.
What has been your biggest challenge?
To begin with, setting up the post office. The Plunkett Foundation helped us a lot. But we had to make daily phone calls to the post office to get the service, and then I had to have an interview to see if I was a suitable person. And then someone had to be designated as the responsible person… We were fortunate because a local resident who worked in the Yeovil post office could step in for a month, so we didn’t lose the service altogether.
What is your absolute favourite part of the shop?
Well, I don’t know. I do all my shopping here? What’s so amazing is the number of things you can get without having to go to a supermarket. If someone wants something, they just talk to Barry. The window displays are popular and a real talking point. They are organised by volunteers. Note: A striking Birdwatch display was in the window when I visited – image below.
What are you most proud of?
The profits! By that I mean they all go back into Halstock Village Trust, so it is directly ploughed into the whole village. It sends a signal as to how successful this shop is to people. We don’t have a pub in Halstock, so the village shop is the community hub. This is where you can learn people’s news or if someone’s struggling or lonely. Not in a gossipy way but proactively, to support one another. We even have visitors stocking up on local food they can’t buy in their area.
So what’s next?
Extending the shop is our aspiration. We want to build an extension to stock even more things for the local community. But that’s a 5-10 year project.
by Rachael Rowe