A few years ago the village of Strood Green in Surrey lost its post office and, a little while later, its only shop.

So far, so familiar - but in this case the residents decided not to let the hub of their community die, so they started a process which last month saw the opening of a gleaming new store built with the support, the money and in many cases the physical labour of the villagers.

After one failed attempt to get the project off the ground, the Strood Green Shop Association and the property's owner arranged a deal with Mole Valley District Council, where the shop premises would be offered in perpetuity to the community for a rent of one penny a year.

After that, it was simply a matter of raising about £80,000, begging for donations of skills and equipment, and learning how to be retailers. Easy!

The team kept a diary of the last months of the process, and here, in their own words, are some of the ups and downs of a fascinating and heartwarming project.


February 12, 2008


Today we had a meeting with Alan Wyle, the village shop adviser from Surrey Community Action. He was full of ideas for the store and all the community activities it can host. We've started our project management system and have a daunting list of jobs to do.

If we have enough enthusiastic individuals who are prepared to put in a little time, and use their own particular skills, we shall be able to pull this off.


February 14


We sent off our application forms today to register the Strood Green Shop Association as an Industrial and Provident Society. We're preparing to distribute share application forms among the local villages. Now we need someone interested in spending an hour or so designing a share certificate.




February 21


Today we're talking to Alan Wyle about his Crop for the Shop ideas - this is a plan to sell local garden produce that is being carried forward by community shops

as a way of helping provide sustainable environmentally friendly living within villages and communities.


February 22


We've had a great meeting with those working on fundraising - they are full of ideas.

Two computers are arriving today, donated by Surrey Community Action. We could do with some furniture to put them on! Anybody got anything usable?


February 24


We've been looking into the alternative post office, as we like to call it. We have been given quite a bit of information from Alan Wyle and ViRSA (Rural Community Shops) about this. Other villages cope without post offices - look at the examples on www.virsa.org.


February 28


We had a meeting with an architect today who looked at the shop front and layout for us. He had several ideas about how to maximise the internal space, and will help us with the planning application. There will be a lot of practical work to do.


February 29


Our solicitors are now in correspondence regarding the lease, and Mole Valley's legal department is sorting out the 106 Agreement that binds the penny-a-year rent. ViRSA has confirmed that our registration documents are being processed by the Financial Services Authority, so all the official stuff is falling into place.


March 3


At the moment 1,550 share information packs are being printed and tomorrow night a team of people will collate and stuff envelopes. Another team will distribute them all over the area.


March 12


We are overwhelmed! The reaction so far has been extraordinary - we have had more than 10% return on our mailing within one week - and have received 170 share applications and more than £5,500.


March 21


We are still receiving offers of help left, right and centre - it is fantastic. We've even had our bank Lloyds TSB offer their staff as decorators! If ever a community deserved a good shop, it's this one!


March 29


This week we heard that we have been granted funds from the CORE Village Programme. They have offered us £20,000 subject to some conditions - we have to raise £20,000 from the community to match it. We had a meeting with a local building contractor. It became apparent that there will be a lot more to separating the shop unit from the accommodation than we had realised.


April 3


We are almost three-fifths of our way to £20,000. The latest total is £11,960, which is magnificent. We've also got some fundraising schemes in the pipeline. We'll be asking if anyone has any other ideas they think would create more money.


April 12


Progress with share sales continues - more than 330 sold to date. We're struggling to get some feedback from Surrey County Council Highways, as we hope to have the footpath/kerbs altered to make for safe access in and out of the new shop.


April 18


We have been donated a large bake-off oven from another shop and we are hoping to receive some other equipment shortly.

Share applications keep coming in - we're up to approx £12,600 - and Leigh Residents Association has made a generous donation.


May 13


Great news on the fundraising front - Brockham Bonfire Committee has voted to give us £500, Unum have sent a cheque for £100, and last night the Brockham Women's Institute handed us a cheque for £100. We also have a donation of a double stainless steel sink and worktop for our kitchen. Now all we need is a plumber!


June 16


Good news on the fundraising front - we have definitely raised more than £20,000 in share sales, donations and small grants, so we are now eligible for our £20,000 match funding from the ViRSA CORE scheme. Now we have to complete the business plan and apply for the loan that is the other condition of the match-funding, so that we can have all funds ready to start renovations in mid-August.


July 27


Unfortunately, the planning application for the extra space and the new shop front has been put back to the September planning meeting. We will have to delay the building work as we cannot guarantee a successful outcome, but we will be lobbying hard.


September 15


Last week we had a visit from the Co-op Bank which gave us, after stiff questioning, the green light for the £20,000 loan. This also then triggers the £20,000 grant, so hopefully, within the next couple of weeks we should have our coffers tripled to £60,000.


October 14


We received a huge boost today with news that we have been allocated a SEEDA RASP (Rural Access to Services) grant of £20,000. The only stipulation is that the shop is open by March 31.

We have put out a request for any building materials people might have left over from other projects. If anyone knows of any treasure troves of breeze blocks and plasterboard, we could use them.


November 9


Finally, the building work has started. Volunteers set about stripping the ceiling and the side room to prepare for the work ahead. We have visited a similar project in West Meon and got lots of invaluable practical advice.


November 27


Our plans for alternative post office services continue to evolve, and we shall have PayPoint for paying bills, free cashback up to £50, and a Postal Point modelled on a couple of community shops in the West Country where it has proved to be a very useful service.


December 27


Today we went on a shopping trip to Woolworths in Redhill and managed to pick up some nearly new shelving units, weighing scales and some baskets in the closing down sale. By saving money in this way, we can afford to spend more on expensive items such as air conditioning and a software packages for stock control.


January 23, 2009


The hideous old shop front is in the skip, and not many tears were shed about that! The electricians are working all hours on the electrics, security, and data wiring. The carpenters have transformed the space inside, and the air conditioning has been installed.

We're kept busy with equipment and stock sourcing, setting up contracts and services, advertising for staff, and designing the look of the shop, as well as preparing for the grand opening.


February 26


The decorating was undertaken by the probation service and a great job they did too. Today we had a delivery of freezers and chillers, giving us an idea of how much space we will have left to put in the shelving and other units.

The staff have been recruited and can't wait to start serving. They will be in training over the next couple of weeks and getting ready for the big day. Volunteers are now being sought to assist in the day-to-day running of the shop.


March 22


On a beautiful spring day, The Shop at Strood Green opened its doors for the first time to a large crowd waiting patiently outside. The queue didn't lessen all day. We had to rely on everyone's patience as the shop was overwhelmed with the amount of customers. It has been a great start!
Helping hands
Rural Community Shops (formerly ViRSA), part of the Plunkett Foundation, offers financial start-up packages of up to £40,000 per shop through its Village CORE Programme, to be complemented by contributions from the community (www.virsa.org).

SEEDA (South East England Development Agency) is one of a number of regional development agencies across the UK which provide funding for regeneration projects. www.seeda.co.uk.

Alan Wyle, village shop adviser from Surrey Community Action, can be contacted on 01273 472153.

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