When Suki and Santokh Samra moved into the Gloucestershire village of Forest Green, near Stroud, five-and-a-half years ago, they had one thing on their minds - to throw themselves and their new convenience store into the local community.
And so far so good. They've raised thousands of pounds for the local residents' association and a whole host of local and national charities. And in February last year they won £1,000 in a My Shop Is Your Shop competition and donated every penny of it to the local residents' association so it could build a new kids' play area. They can now add another £200 to that for scooping the village category prize in our Growing with Warburtons competition.
"We love helping other people - I think it's in our blood," says Suki. "We are the same with the community as we are with family and friends. We never think we are just shopkeepers, we think we are everyone's neighbour, too.
"Without the community's support in the shop, we wouldn't have a business, so we like to give something back. We believe that if you give something away, you'll always get something back in the future in some way in your life. We raise lots of money for the community and charities, and I regularly cook and donate my Asian food for village events - next month it's the annual school fête."
One of the couple's latest achievements has been to secure a post box outside the store - something the pair have been campaigning for since March 2002. "The nearest post box was across three main roads and was always full," says Suki. "I kept writing letters but was told there were enough post boxes. I sent another letter just before Christmas explaining that more houses had been built in the village and this time they said yes."
friends in high places
The couple's standing in the community has even been noted in high places, when Prime Minister Tony Blair invited Suki to attend a round table discussion on local business and the economy in nearby Stonehouse, followed by a tea party at Number 10. "It was organised by the local council and they invited business people to discuss issues that affect the local economy," explains Suki.
"I was allowed to send a secret message to Tony Blair, so I sent him a letter saying that we hadn't been able to get the lottery, but that the community was asking for it. I don't know if it helped but I got the lottery after that and the community was very pleased. We're on a one-year trial and have to make £1,000 a week, so I've put a poster up in the window to say that if people want to keep the lottery, they've got to use it."
It's not just the community the Samras have made an impact on, though. When they first took over the shop, store standards weren't what they are now. "The shop had a lot of empty shelves and wasn't giving off the right impression. We came here to build the business up and decided to change everything and go with Premier. We've been with it for four years now and the store has full shelves and a much more pleasant shopping environment."
Despite coping single-handed with long opening hours, seven days a week, Suki and Santokh aren't complaining. "On a Sunday we open from 9am to 1pm, and then again from 6pm to 8pm because the community needs it. If we are five minutes late we will have people waiting outside, so we don't like to let them down."