Vince and Sharne have made Okeford Store the villagers’ favourite, Rachael Rowe reports.
Village shops are a vital part of the rural infrastructure of the Blackmore Vale. They kept services going during the pandemic when everyone was in lockdown and are always there when you have forgotten to buy something. But like all local independent businesses, they need regular support from the community.
I visited Okeford Village Stores in Okeford Fitzpaine (Sturminster Newton) and spoke to owners Vince Lee and Sharne Ferris.
What brought you here?
‘We have been here for six and a half years. We ran the Red Barn in Hazelbury Bryan and turned it around to be a successful business, but it was a leasehold arrangement on the property. We wanted to do the same thing, but with a freehold property, so we moved to Okeford Fitzpaine. We’ve got the shop and Post Office here and have now created a small cafe in what was a derelict building,’ says Vince.
ell us about the team?
‘There’s Sharne and me! We also have Nicky, who works at weekends.’
What’s selling right now?
‘I shouldn’t really say this, but the alcohol is popular! And our bags of logs are literally flying out of the door. Our bread – from Taylors of Bruton – also does well, and the hot foods (sausage rolls and pastries) are good sellers in cold weather. And we have cakes made by Rob Corben*.’
Who are your local suppliers?
‘We have bread from Taylors of Bruton, meats from Else’s in Stalbridge, Mere Trout, Dorset Charcoal, and our eggs are from Bishops Caundle.’
Using lots of local food suppliers means the shop is in its turn supporting the local economy. However, Sharne pointed out a couple of things. ’People think a village shop is going to be very expensive, but we have some products that are cheaper than the supermarket. For example, Heinz tomato soup is cheaper here than at a nearby supermarket. We also have the equivalent of an own-brand basics range (Jack’s) which is very good.’
What is your big challenge?
‘Right now, just maintaining the turnover during the cost of living crisis and coping with the huge electricity bills.’
Looking around, the shop has several chillers and freezers, required to supply fresh and frozen food to the community. While we’re all finding the rise in energy costs a challenge at home, so imagine the impact on our village shops at the moment.
What are you most proud of?
‘Resurrecting the shop after it almost disappeared from the village. It’s the same sense of pride we had when we took over the Red Barn.’
I remember the dark days of the village shop in Okeford Fitzpaine before Vince and Sharne took over – it was much less welcoming. Today, it is an asset to the village and surrounding area and has become a community hub.
Sharne added: ‘We really want to leave a legacy of successful and thriving village shops for the local community.’
So what’s next?
Vince says what many local storekeepers are saying: ‘At the moment, we’re just aiming to survive the winter on a month-to-month basis, making sure we can pay our energy bills.’
When was the last time you used your village shop? If you haven’t visited for a while, pop in and buy something – or save a few items from your supermarket shopping list to purchase in the village shop. They were here for us during the lockdown, and now we all need to support them as they face the huge pressures of the current economy.
If you haven’t sampled a fruit cake made by Okeford local Robert Corben – you don’t know what you’re missing! And his date and walnut cake is very moreish – RR