Villagers revive community spirit to save store: Familiar spiral of rural decline is ended by volunteers and shop bonds, writes David Nicholson-Lord

THERE was no Steradent in the village shop at Talaton, east Devon, yesterday. It does not stock condoms either. But there was bread from Honiton, Campbell's condensed soup and Heinz baked beans on special offer and a free Coors beer with every four cans of Theakston. More to the point, there was a shop.

The Talaton general stores re- opened yesterday under new management. There is Trish, a pilot's wife, Jean, a retired music teacher, Sybil, a hairdresser, and Olwen and Greta, both retired. There are another 30 female volunteers, some working for as little as two hours a month. There is also the handyman, Alan Dixon, retired, formerly east Devon's chief planning officer.

For the past six months - and for the first time in living memory - Talaton has not had a shop. Last September Sue Woodley, the proprietor, was forced to close the store, caught in the familiar spiral of falling custom and diminishing stock. Three generations of Mrs Woodley's family had run the shop before her.

Talaton, which has a population of under 500, looked set to succumb to the market forces that have cost 29 villages in Devon their sole general stores since 1987. Nationally, according to the Rural Development Commission, 3,500 are at risk of closure. The reasons range from the rival attractions of superstores to crippling mortgages and other loans inherited from the overoptimistic 1980s.

At Talaton, according to John Carter, a local farmer and chairman of the parish council, the chief enemy was complacency. Everyone thought the shop was too much of an 'institution' to close. When it did, the villagers rallied round.

First, a questionnaire was distributed, which found that 80 per cent of the 140 households wanted the shop to survive. Then pounds 6,500 was raised in donations and grants - 120 villagers bought pounds 50 shop bonds or pounds 10 membership subscriptions. Talaton also sought the help of the Village Retail Services Association (Virsa), a non-profit making body founded last year after the rescue of a shop at Halstock in Dorset. Virsa has advised in 12 similar cases in the past year and is establishing a database of village shops to identify the keys to success.

The shop at Talaton had been stripped down to a shell when the villagers took it over. The money raised paid for rent, stock, a till, new fittings and cold cabinets. Volunteers did the rest - decorating, carpentry, heating and lighting. Even the two redundant Shellmex petrol pumps outside have been smartened up.

According to Virsa, many villagers have discovered too late how important a shop is to their community and all too often accept closure as inevitable. Richard Fry, its assistant director, says a pounds 100,000 turnover is probably needed for viability.

The shop at Talaton will survive if the 300 adults in the village spend at least pounds 5 each a week in it. The target is pounds 2,000 profit on pounds 50,000 sales in its first year. Jean Hofmann, one of the five volunteer supervisers, believes there is an 80 per cent chance of achieving that. Alan Dixon puts it differently: 'I think I have done more good for the community doing up the village shop than ever I did with the council.'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
theatre
Sport
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
News
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
tv
News
i100
Travel
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
John Terry, Frank Lampard
footballChelsea captain sends signed shirt to fan whose mum had died
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world