Sadly, it’s a common, albeit complex story. Independent traders having to shut up shop due to the punishing economics created by out of town supermarkets and rising business rates. It’s not just traditional retailers that suffer, there’s also a knock-on effect to other local businesses. The convenience of a one-stop shop and online shopping drawing business away from everyone.
In rural areas the impact is perhaps more acutely felt. Local shops and pubs are shutting at an alarming rate. But it would seem all is not lost. There are a growing number, 300 at the last count, of local shops that are being turned into community owned ventures.
The ‘why’ is obvious. Local shops are a focal point for any community, they are part of its history and part of its story. Without them our villages and towns become simple dormitories and people don’t benefit from that.
The ‘how’ is another matter, but it can be done. For example, one such organisation, The Plunkett Foundation (plunkett.co.uk), helps rural co-ops to develop. They support through proving demand and helping to elect a committee. Then establishing a suitable legal structure for ownership and supporting in the business of securing premises and fund-raising. Other organisations to look out for are Brighter Futures Together (www.brighterfuturestogether.co.uk) and Pub is the Hub (www.pubisthehub.org.uk) both of whom offer advice on how to help communities take back ownership of their prized assets.
In addition, there are a wide range of grants available from charities, councils and the Lottery funded ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) but beware that accessing them can be a full-time job.
Volunteers are also key but if a conscious decision has been made to get started then getting professional help for free can probably be found amongst the community itself. Perhaps the most important ‘hire’ is a treasurer, preferably an accountant or an ex-council member who understands rules and regulations.
It does seem as if there is a sea-change in attitudes towards local retailers. We have arguably been sleep-walking to this point but are now starting to wake up to the fact that ‘keeping local alive’ benefits everyone.
It may not be a straightforward proposition right now but expect momentum on this issue to gather.
Communities are waking up to the fact that they can take back control of their environments and supporting sustainable communities is getting much more political.
The headlines may be doom and gloom, but we are confident there is a silver lining to this cloud.
So, get out there and keep it local!