The Award winning Nenthead Community Shop & Post Office has been going strong since 2007 when it was established by a determined group of villagers who refused to go without their vital village hub when the old village shop and Post Office closed down.

Nent shop opening

Rallying together villagers managed to raise nearly £10,000 towards opening a shop in new premises through community shares which were bought by over 100 members.This money along with grant funding allowed them to set up a  community owned co-operative shop and post office.

Originally the community was going to buy the existing shop but when negotations fell through they had to find alternative premises and were offered a long lease of the Over 60s reading room as a new shop location.

Feeling the loss of the old village shop

There were a number of months between the old shop closing and the community shop being opened meaning villagers faced a 10 mile round trip just to buy essentials like milk and newspapers.

Peter Davidson is chairman of the directors of the community shop, like many other villagers he felt the loss of the shop during this period."It was not so much that you could not buy your local paper but more that you did not know what was going on the village you didn't see anybody if you were not involved in something else in the village. I think that is what people missed most when the old shop closed was not bumping into people and finding out what was happening."

Nent shop peterEstablishing a strong business which would last ...

One of the priorities from the start for the shop was to provide some employment in the village, Peter explains how this was done to benefit the village but also for the benefit of the shop too.

"It was decided really early on they would not use volunteers for the shop it was a priority really that we should provide employment but to also have a paid staff shop as a lot of volunteer staffed shops only last on average about five years before they pack in, its more difficult to keep a volunteer shop going than a paid staff one."

Peter Davidson has always made an effort to be involved in village life since moving to Nenthead with his wife Norma in 1979. The 70 year former dentist and farmer is also a volunteer driver for Nenthead's community snowplough."It's about being involved, it would be boring to be living in Nenthead and not be involved in community activities."

Becoming an award winning shop

Nenthead Community Shop has done very well since it started out thanks to the great support from the villagers, who are grateful to have this vital hub at the heart of village life.

Listen below to what some of the local people have to say about their community shop.

The difference the shop makes to the community has not gone unnoticed in the wider social enterprise community with Nenthead Community Shop picking up the Best Cumbrian Co-operative award at the 2012 Cumbria Social Enterprise Awards.

The award was given to the shop because the judges were impressed by how much support the shop received from its community, including members of the co-operative, volunteers and customers. Angela Green the secretary and also the person responsible for the everyday running of the shop was given a special mention for playing an integral part in the shop's success from the setting up process to seeing the shop thrive and become an essential hub of the community.

Nent shop awardsAngela has always felt very strongly about the social importance of the shop to the villagers. "After the shop closed there was no meeting place for people to come in contact with other villagers and this is why we got the table in the shop so people could come and have a chat with their friends."

For Angela the most rewarding part of running the shop is being there for those villagers who rely on the shop. "Well there is lot of the older people who do not have transport and there are no daily buses now so having the shop means they can at least get their everyday essentials, we can never match supermarkets but at least they can get newspapers, tea, coffee, milk and things like that."

Since this interview Angela has retired from the community shop with Billy Richardson taking over the role:

Billy said: "I was looking for a job and I was asked by Angela if I would take over and I said yes, I am just slowly trying to get a grasp of everything and fit into the system which is already here, but it's easy because we have got lovely people who work in the shop and lovely customers which makes the transition quite easy, it's a good place to work"

A steep learning curve

Those running the community shop have worked hard over the years to get the best out of the business with the original committee members facing a steep learning curve as they had no previous retail experience.

Peter said: "I think initially we were too ambitious we had too many lines we have since realised anything you buy has to turn over quickly and you must closely monitor what is selling and what is not and hunt around for the best deals. As a small shop we do not have much purchase power so we must find suppliers willing to sell small quantities of things."

Despite its award winning success and having paid off its original loan the committee still faces a continuous challenge to keep the business going.

Nent shop angelaPeter said: "We are always trying to increase revenue but it's very difficult to persuade people to spend any more money there. I think there is a perception that items are dearer in a small village shop but that is actually not always the case sometimes they are even cheaper and unfortunately now more and more supermarkets are doing home deliveries which is making it even more difficult to keep the shop going."

The committee has even turned its hand to raising money towards the shop by putting on fundraising events such as a recent 'Big Breakfast' which proved very popular with locals raising over £400 which was split between the community shop and the village hall.

Some words of advice ...

Peter would offer the following advice to other communities looking to set up a community shop:
"It's going to be tough whatever you do in a village to run a business, I think you need the right people to run it, for example Angela puts in far more work into our shop than she gets paid for.I also don't think you can change the way people behave everybody would like a village shop there but not everybody will necessarily support it as well as you would hope but that is just human nature."

You can keep up to date with what is happening at Nenthead Community Shop on Facebook

Next week we find out about Alston Moor Community Transport which is dedicated to getting socially isolated people out and about around the Moor and on trips away.