Gaelle Walker pays it a visit
Four walls, shelving and a till. That's pretty much where the similarities between the Botton Village store and a conventional convenience store end.
Tucked away in the rolling hills of the North Yorkshire Dales, Botton Village is home to more than 300 people, just under half of whom have some form of learning disability or special need. They are known as the 'villagers', and they live and work alongside 100 permanent resident carers known as co-workers.
Botton is a Steiner community, so every aspect of life - from the way in which people are cared for, to how the store and amenities are run - is underpinned by the teachings of the Austrian philosopher, who believed in a system of government based on justice, compassion and fairness.
The village store, run by co-worker Jeremy Griffiths, plays a central part in village life. For a start, it's the only place where the inhabitants of Botton can buy their groceries, unless they are prepared to make a long car journey. The store also serves the large numbers of tourists who come to visit the village and walk through its picturesque countryside each year.
And it's not just its setting that makes the store unusual - there are also some striking differences between the types of products on offer here and in a conventional
c-store. Most of the groceries on sale have been grown on one of Botton's own farms. Wherever possible these products have been produced biodynamically, which is a form of organic farming which uses the rhythm of the sun, moon, planets and stars.
As well as the plentiful supply of seasonal produce, the store is packed full of jams, juices, sauces, herbs and much more, all of which have been made in the Botton Village Food Processing Centre.
Milk, cheese, butter and yogurt products all come from the Botton Village Creamery, while bread, cake and biscuits are baked in, yes you've guessed it, the Botton Village Bakery. And what they can't grow or make themselves (which isn't much) Jeremy sources from a local organic supplier.
The rest of the stock comes from Suma Wholefoods - an independent wholefood wholesaler which specialises in fairly-traded, organic, ethical and natural products.
The store has another unusual feature - or rather a lack of one. It doesn't sell alcohol or cigarettes. "Those kind of products just don't fit with what Botton Village is about," explains Jeremy, "even if we did sell them I doubt that there would be much demand," he adds.
The store itself has been designed to fit Botton's ethos of organic, natural living. Built just over a year ago to replace the old site which had become too small to service the ever-growing community, the store is clad in dark wood and local stone, so blends perfectly with the natural environment.
The interior is equally impressive. The roof and shelving is made from a soft golden wood, while the walls have been painted a pale green to promote a peaceful atmosphere.
Products are presented in large wicker baskets and aisles are wide, to provide easy access for wheelchairs and prams. The store also has a vast amount of backroom space, more than its 3,000sq ft of actual selling space.
"The extra space for storage was an absolute must," explains Jeremy. "It means that we can benefit from discounts by buying most of the wholefood products such as rice and pulses in bulk." Jeremy has also invested in special equipment so that he can package and label products in smaller quantities, ready for sale.
The store is a working model of the effective application of renewable-energy technologies. Its heating and hot-water requirements are served by a large heat pump that extracts heat from the ground via six 60-metre deep boreholes in the adjacent car park, while additional energy is provided by large solar panels on the roof and in the car park. Paper, glass and plastics are all recycled.
Eight full-time staff work alongside Jeremy in the store, and most have some form of learning disability or special need. "Working in the store is about so much more than stacking shelves and serving customers," explains Jeremy. "It allows the villagers to contribute to the community, and gives the staff a sense of self-worth and real achievement."
At least two of the workers in the store have lived and worked in Botton for nearly 30 years. "We're like one great big family," he adds. "Everyone has a job and a purpose here, even some of the most severely disabled."
Jeremy and his family have lived in Botton for nine years. They have a large house just a few hundred metres away from the store, which is also home to four villagers with special needs. Family life is central to the workings of the village, and because of this the store closes every day for lunch, when Jeremy and the workers go home to eat together.
Houses are clustered around the village's five farms which are spread across 650 acres. Because of these distances, Jeremy has established a home delivery service to help get groceries to the homesteads with the minimum of hassle.
Families are able to post their shopping lists to the store via an internal system, allowing Jeremy and his team to make up the deliveries and then drop them off at the relevant homes each week.
With its green technologies, refreshing approach to staffing and support for environmentally friendly farming techniques, the Botton Village Store is streets ahead of the times in so many ways. It's a living, breathing example of tomorrow's retailing environment today - an inspirational place in which to shop and to work.