Alston Wholefoods is one of Alston's best loved shops having provided the community and visitors with a great selection of wholefoods and other quality local produce at reasonable prices for over 15 years. What has made the shop such a success is the drive of the vibrant team who run it as a workers' co-operative to improve their community ...

Alston Wholefoods teamAlston Wholefoods workers' co-operative was set up in May 1998 by a group of individuals who were passionate about wholefoods and missed the presence of the previous wholefood shop on Alston Front Street which had closed down. The group were sourcing their own wholefoods through companies like Suma and Real Foods and decided it would be a good idea for them to pool their resources and set up in business as a workers' co-operative, in order to provide the community with wholefoods at a reasonable price.

Getting established with a little help from the community

The decision to run it as a workers' co-operative rather than a private business was influenced by not only the lack of capital but also the lack of time and confidence of any one member to commit to running a business. There were four initial founder members Kate Webb, Simon Carver, Anne Lanham and June Graham and despite having little money to put into the business they were able to make a go of it thanks to the support from the community.

The support included an initial low rent for the shop, on the corner of King's Arms Lane, courtesy of May Blackstock, fixtures and fittings from the old library, King Arthur's fruit and veg shop and Killhope Lead Mining Centre. Kate Webb who had been making cheeses as her personal business provided the shop with a cheese counter.

The shop began on a small scale with a limited stock range dedicated to quality wholefoods and a biscuit tin for the money but has grown consistently over the years to the established, well organised business of today.

Alston Wholefoods outsideFrom humble beginnings to a thriving business

Alston Wholefoods journey since its humble beginnings has not always been a smooth ride with at times the co-operative members forfeiting their wages to ensure the shop could survive the downtimes. The members' strong belief in the valuable service they were providing to their community being the main driver for the co-operative over the years. All the hard work and sacrifices have paid off as now Alston Wholefoods is flourishing in its new, larger, centrally located premises further up Alston's cobbled Front Street which it moved to in 2009.

New members take over the reigns

The co-operative members have also changed over the years as the original members have moved on and new ones have taken on the responsibility of the shop. There are currently seven members; Jim, Joy, Robin, Rosemary, Damien, Shelagh and Tracy and they each work one day a week in the shop. They all also have either other jobs or are retired so do not rely solely on the shop for their income. Each member gets an equal vote in the business and brings their own strengths and personality to the co-operative and the benefits to the business are outlined by Shelagh Connor who joined in 2006.

"Being a co-operative means you can have different ideas and different approaches and you can bring a freshness to the business, certain members are extremely knowledgeable about food and its health values, others have a certain business acumen that they bring to it and other members are just sunny personalities behind the counter. Sharing ideas and the burdens and responsibilities is a huge plus in itself. I think it would be quite daunting, in fact I think it would be impossible for any one individual to run an outlet like this because there are so many different considerations."

Listen to Shelagh talk more about what it's like to be a member of Alston Wholefoods.

Building up a range of unique and widely sort after goods

The nature of the business has also evolved over the years from strictly wholefoods to a much broader range of products much of which has been customer led with the team happy to source hard to get items and try out new lines in the shop.

Shelagh said: "Now I would say it is an absolute cook's paradise it's not just wholefoods. We do stock all the original wholefoods lines but so much more and we know that people travel quite a distance to buy things that are not easily sourced elsewhere. We have a fantastic range of gluten free products, flours, cereals, cakes, biscuits and all manner of things and all that has also been consumer led."

The shop also prides itself on being an outlet for local small producers, with local cheese being a speciality of the shop and the cheese counter well stocked with over 40 varieties of local cheeses, made from cows, goats and ewes milk. The shop also stocks ethical household goods and locally made candles, soaps, inctures and lotions.

15 years and still growingSupport from fellow businesses

The shop is also supported by and supports other local business for example sharing deliveries with fellow workers' co-operative The Moody Baker just up the street from Alston Wholefoods. They are also supported by Carlton Farm Shop near Penrith who will accept deliveries for Alston Wholefoods from business too far away to deliver to Alston directly.

"There has always been a lot of support from other businesses in Alston as it is in everyone's interest that we persist in some form, we enhance each other by jointly attracting a lot of business from outside the area."

Alston Wholefoods has become an integral part of the community, but it has not always been smooth sailing, in spite of this it has succeeded due to the determination of the members to add to their community by providing a customer led service which supports and enhances Alston Moor.

For more information about Alston Wholefoods visit their website.

Next week we find out all about Alston Moor Partnership, a community enterprise which is dedicated to making Alston Moor a thriving community through a number of different projects ...