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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own