Sprint star Darren Campbell may have hung up his spikes in the summer of 2006, but his new life as a businessman means he's not exactly relaxing with his feet up. In fact, he's only recently made things that little bit more hectic. Along with his business partner and former Bolton Wanderers footballer Nathan Blake, Darren has stepped in to save a c-store on the Manchester estate on which he was raised.
The pair are now joint owners of the Sale Racecourse Estate store and they have big plans for it. Darren, who now lives in Cardiff but still often makes the 400-mile round trip to the city to visit friends and family, is the first to admit the store is in desperate need of investment and plans to rebuild the business from scratch.
Family members including his sister Sophia and a small but dedicated team of staff have ensured the vital community service continues, ahead of the grand redesign.
Darren recalls how when he heard the business was up for sale, it was an opportunity he just had to take. "It was great to get the chance," he says. "The owner was keen to sell to someone from the estate and I knew it was important for the community. He needed to sell fairly quickly and I was in a position to purchase it. I could see that it needed to be brought up to standard and become a focal point for the community again.
"It's a real chance for me to be able to give something back to the area in which I grew up."
Darren admits that at the moment it's actually possible to pass by the store without even noticing it. "It's not in keeping with the area because a lot of redevelopment has gone on," he says. "There are new houses and flats; everyone is working really hard. But every community needs a good local store to pop round to as well. We'll start from scratch and see if it's possible to have an internet café alongside and if we can include flats above the store."
Darren's involvement in the community stretches further than the c-store, though. He's already lent his support to a campaign to save the primary school he attended as a child and has enjoyed success with a number of other business ventures, including a community investment company called Footprints, which he runs with Blake. There's also Street Athletics - a series of community-focused events across the UK where youngsters are invited to race each other over 60m, which he formed with Linford Christie.
Darren is adamant the new store should also improve the lot for youngsters in the area. One way he hopes to do this is to make the internet café available free to under-16s for a set number of hours each week.
"We're hoping that the car park at the back of the store, which we purchased from the local housing association, will provide us with the space we need to include an internet café. The store has always been a focal point for the community here and to be able to provide extra things like this will help do that. We're hoping to get the designs finished soon. I want to build something special for everyone.
"I believe it's truly important that if you're given the opportunity to help others out in your life then you should. It's a bit of a weird feeling for me, though, because the estate and the store make up such a huge part of my history."
Darren says the fact that people found out it was him who purchased the store wasn't planned, but now that word has spread there's a real buzz in the community. He adds: "It's hopefully going to improve the situation for people.
"I'm not trying to be a superhero, but it's worthwhile if I can do a little bit to make a difference. It doesn't cost me anything to give my time. I'm not doing it for any kind of praise and making money is definitely not the main aim. It was much more a decision from my heart rather than my head."
However, Darren adds that if the business does well, he won't be complaining. "My first aim was to be a successful athlete," he says. "Now I've moved on from there, I want to be a successful businessman. I've always been excited by achieving. The store's not going to make me a millionaire, but I'm in a privileged position to do what I can to help."
One for all
While the internet café is sure to attract the attention of youngsters, Darren doesn't want the store to become place for teenagers to gather and cause hassle. "There's no real trouble round here, but I'm going to be careful that the store doesn't turn into a teenage hangout," he says. "The older people want to feel safe when they come in to shop."
At the heart of his decision to buy the store is a desire to cater for the entire community. Speaking like a seasoned independent already, he tells me: "There has to be a place for both supermarkets and c-stores. Local stores are extremely important. If people don't have a local store, especially if they are older or haven't got a car, where can they go? Stores like this one mean the community can spend their money in a business where a local shopkeeper is working hard to please them."