Can the UK’s first 'automated shop' vending machine keep customers satisfied?

Chris Green visits the unexpected item in Clifton’s car park – a giant vending machine

On a sunny spring morning in the quiet village of Clifton in Derbyshire, a steady stream of people are making their way towards the Cock Inn. They are not early rising drinkers; the pub is not yet open. Instead they head around to the car park at the back.

Here sits the UK’s first “automated shop” – a bus shelter-sized giant vending machine selling everything from fresh milk and eggs to umbrellas and cat food.

Designed to look like a quaint village shop, yet with the advantage of more reliable opening hours, it is intended to lead a quiet, mechanised revolution in rural areas across Britain, filling the gap left by the widespread closure of traditional stores.

The Clifton SpeedyShop, as it is formally known, has been gratefully welcomed by residents, who haven’t had a village shop for more than a decade.

“They pretty much emptied it on Monday evening. It was great,” says Lorraine Garside, the landlady of the Cock, who admits that she has already fed her hungry customers using a loaf of bread bought from the machine.

“We haven’t had a village shop for about 13, 14 years and there are no bus services through the village any more, so if you want a pint of milk you have to walk into town if you don’t drive. It’s very reasonably priced – I think it’s marvellous.”

The machine is the brainchild of Peter Fox, a 50-year-old electrical engineer who used to live in a small village and became frustrated at coming home late from work to find nothing in the fridge. Having spent more than two years designing the prototype, he now hopes that similar machines can be rolled out nationally, but says he doesn’t have the resources to expand as quickly as he would like and is now actively seeking a business partner.

“I own all the intellectual property, but I don’t have a factory with 500 people and I can’t manufacture hundreds of these a week,” he says. “I certainly intend to roll it out myself anyway, and I’ve already got other machines in my factory which are almost complete … but obviously I can’t instantly start making hundreds of machines and sending them all over the UK. To do that I’ve either got to grow organically, which will take time, or find somebody who wants to jump in with me.”

Accepting cash or credit cards, the machine emails Mr Fox whenever it dispenses an item, so he can keep track of stock levels. Although he is reluctant to reveal just how good business has been so far, on the grounds that it is “early days”, he says there has been a “steady stream” of villagers buying everything from washing powder to toothpaste and bags of sugar.

Yesterday The Independent contributed to the machine’s coffers by buying that key household staple, a can of eight hot dogs (89p). Other items on offer included six eggs (£1.75), bacon (£2.69), a pair of sticky toffee puddings (£1.99) and a book of first class stamps (£3.60).

Although the machine is attracting more publicity than Clifton has received in years, most customers yesterday seemed happier to browse rather than buy. Barbara Goodwin, out for a walk with her husband and their two dogs, was among the window shoppers. “I’m not quite sure,” she says. “There is a general store a couple of miles away. But having said that, late at night, you don’t have to go far, and it’s very convenient.”

The machine carries another benefit for Mrs Garside: relieving the pressure on her pub to act as an informal grocer for naive tourists who rent self-catered cottages, only to be left baffled at the village’s lack of a Tesco Express. “You do get some southerners … who come up and think that every quaint village has a shop, and of course it doesn’t any more,” she says. “So now we have.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific