Local shops for local people: How Tideswell's residents are trying to beat the supermarkets at their own game
Thursday 14 July 2011
How many villages still have a butcher, a baker, and a greengrocer? Not many. The rise of supermarkets with their promise of a cheap, convenient food – and nappies, batteries, clothes, detergent, and everything else you could possibly want – means small retailers are struggling to compete. Every year, around 400 English village shops are lost. Numbers of butchers have dropped from 33,000 in the 1960s to 7,500 today. Greengrocers have fared even worse, falling from 6,916 to 3,948 in just over a decade.
But pretty, grey-cottaged Tideswell, is different. It is set in a walkers' paradise, the greenest of green Peak District countryside. Despite its population of only 1,800, it still has that magic triumvirate: a butcher, baker, and a greengrocer, plus an ice-cream parlour, café, takeaway-lunch shop, four pubs, two fish-and-chip shops, and a Co-op. Food is not in short supply here.
And it's great food, too, made with care using local ingredients, much of it prize-winning. Locals have seen plenty of businesses close over the years; in the 1930s there were more than 60 shops here. The locals value those that are left, so they came up with a plan to preserve them, and they called it the Taste Tideswell project.
The aim is bold: to "treble the size of the food economy" by harnessing Tideswell's culinary know-how, and, in so doing, put it on the gastro map. Villagers won more than £400,000 in lottery funding for the project and it's already getting results.
Pete Hawkins, chair of Taste Tideswell, says: "I've lived here for 26 years. The reason we started Taste Tideswell was because over those 26 years we've lost a lot of shops. If we lost, let's say Tindalls the baker, or the butcher or the greengrocer, why would you do your shopping here? The other shops would probably follow suit. The whole thrust of what we're trying to do is to ensure that Tideswell as a retail community stays healthy and vibrant."
Tim Nicol has been appointed as the "village champion" for a year as part of the lottery prize. For Nicol, a food marketeer who brought Dolmio pasta sauce to Britain in the 1980s, an essential part of the scheme's success is making sure Tideswell's shops remain specialist so the village can compete as a whole with a supermarket, rather than shopkeepers with each other. Instead of wandering electric-lit aisles, you dip into each shop to get what you need. That way, the whole village benefits.
"Tideswell's independent shops represent one of the most attractive aspects of a village like this," he says. "It's a real living village; it's not an artificial chocolate-box setting. By keeping the rural shops open for local people, we're preserving the reality of a working village in the Peak District. There are other villages around here where there are more shops selling climbing gear than food – that's not a real village."
Taste Tideswell is part of the Village SOS scheme from the Big Lottery Fund. It gave out six awards to deserving schemes across the country, the results of which will be broadcast on the BBC in a Sarah Beeny-fronted series this summer. The biggest financial aspect of Tideswell's scheme has been the creation of a cookery school, commercial kitchen and nano-brewery, offering food-and-drink courses to visitors.
The project has had some early success. A year in, 1,000 people have taken part in the courses, which run every few days and range from sushi to beer-making to tapas. Volunteers have taken on a patch of once-derelict land behind the church and transformed it into a thriving allotment, where Jerusalem artichokes, cabbages, beans, cauliflowers and peas grow. Teenagers have got involved and built raised beds. There are monthly garden-work days: come along, do some digging, and you get to take home some veg. A food producer who has set up under Taste Tideswell's banner makes the gluten-free sticky-toffee puddings sold in Chatsworth Farm Shop, and a lunch takeaway shop has opened in the village.
Nicol says it's too early, yet, to answer the all-important question of whether the project is turning in a profit. "To try and make a substantial difference to the size of the food economy – we'll need another five to 10 years," he admits. "I think it has had a positive impact. We may not have increased the food economy by as much as we'd have hoped, but we're here for the long term and there's no reason why it shouldn't work. Our sphere of influence is growing day by day, as our fame spreads. We've got people coming to the cookery school from further and further afield.
"We hope to welcome more visitors but we hope to encourage more villagers to shop locally and we hope that by reconnecting local people to more food ingredients and the way to cook with them, then you will support the local producers and retailers," he adds. "It makes the whole village into a supermarket. It's about teaching everyone in the local food chain from plot to plate."
You see Nicol's marketing handiwork everywhere in the village. Posh branding – a "T" for Tideswell with a bite mark out of it – adorns local food products. Signs on lampposts exhort visitors to make sure they don't leave without buying some local food. Yet despite the work being done – the Tideswell Food Festival brought in more than 2,000 visitors – shopkeepers are frustrated that people are still slaves to supermarkets.
Vicki Stafford, the owner of Peaches the greengrocer, says: "It's nice when you go into a shop and the shopkeeper knows your name. My biggest customer base are the older people because they've always shopped in local shops, they've been brought up to shop locally. If you go to the supermarket and you fill one of those plastic bags full of apples, you don't look at the price. People come in here and more often than not, they're surprised at how cheap I am."
As part of Tideswell's story, the Big Lottery Fund plans to launch Village SOS Active to teach other communities inspired by the efforts being made here. In the meantime, is there still hope for the village shop? According to Ken Parsons, the chief executive of the Rural Shops Alliance, there may be.
"Local shops are under considerable pressure at the moment," he says. "But people are much more conscious of petrol prices than they used to be. And a lot of people have started to realise that when you go to the supermarket somewhere, you've spent £100 on your basket without really realising it. When you go to local shops three or four times a week, you're buying what you need rather than being tempted by the special offers on supermarket aisles. The supermarkets with their high advertising budgets have got people into a frame of mind that it's a bargain.
"One way that local shops all over the country are fighting back is to emphasise the locally produced and sell things from smaller suppliers that the supermarkets don't stock," he adds. "It's an excellent way of having a point of difference. We would thoroughly endorse what they are trying to do in Tideswell, in terms of getting their place on the map and build up a momentum. People are still going to go to the supermarket but perhaps they might get what they need locally first rather than as an afterthought."
Tideswell's top tastes
Peaches Greengrocer: Gets a fresh fruit and veg delivery every day, and sells locally grown produce. Some more unusual items such as kohlrabi, and, when I visit, 'do-nut' peaches: literally, a peach shaped like a doughnut. Bought one. Ate it. Lovely.
Peak District Dairy: Ice-cream parlour, farm shop, and café. Robert Walker's award-winning ice cream is made from his local dairy herd's milk. Choose from one of the day's 12 flavours.
Vanilla Kitchen: The triple chocolate brownie here won a Gold Taste award. Popular café, opens five days a week and does breakfast, lunch, coffee and cake. The owner, Louise Sharpe, uses local ingredients whenever she can.
NT Gibbs butcher: Run by Philip Gibbs, whose father, Norman, took it over in 1958. Meat sourced locally where possible. The black pudding won a national food award.
Cherry Tree: Takeaway lunch place. Owners Barbara and David Cooper daily make batches of tray-bakes which are delivered around the county. Local workers come in for takeaway sandwiches and salad boxes. The vegetarian tartlet was delicious.
Tindalls Bakery & Delicatessen: A great place. The family owners are up in the small hours making pies, puddings, pasties and breads. Check out the "Tidza pud", fidgety pasty, and owner Carol Cox's award-winning flavoured cooking sugars and salts.
For details of cookery courses, visit www.tideswellschooloffood.co.uk
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