After a few minutes in the company of David and Sylvia Winter it becomes obvious that there's no such thing as a quick visit to Creaton Village Store and Post Office in Northamptonshire.

Sitting at a table in the 200-year-old building's bay window while being force-fed Sylvia's coffee and walnut cake, C-Store is aware of a crowd of people milling around the tiny store, taking their time to pick up a few bits and pieces and chatting about village events and plans for the weekend. Clearly, this is the hub of the community and the customers are quick to point out that the reason why is the owners themselves.

Putting aside the suspicion that Sylvia and David have hired the entire cast of 'The Archers' for the day to say pleasant things about them, it's a wonderful experience to hear customers talking about their neighbourhood retailers in glowing terms. Here we are, a few miles north of Northampton and a few yards off the sleepy A5199, and we've apparently landed on Planet Nice.

To be fair, the Winters do have a lot going for them. Creaton is in an affluent, comparatively isolated area and its strong sense of community has recently won it a Northamptonshire Village of the Year award.

When the worst crime you've had to deal with is the temporary disappearance of your hanging flower baskets you're clearly among the luckier convenience retailers. But that's not to take anything away from the couple who have built a business that perfectly meets the needs of the community it serves.

David, a full-time medical practice manager when he's not manning the shop, tells C-Store their story. "We've lived here in the village for 20 years but six years ago, with the kids growing up, we were looking for a retail business in the Cotswolds. After missing out on two or three opportunities, we realised the challenge we wanted was right under our noses."

Building up the neglected business was a challenge for the newcomers. They initially found suppliers wary of doing business with the store, presumably after previous payment problems, so everything was cash-only for a few months. But with their local links and a determination to make the shop central to village life, Sylvia and David soon had the customers rolling in.

Even now, standing opposite the store, you won't see advertisements, promotions or indeed any sign of corporate branding other than the Post Office sign. The front door is completely covered in local notices: puppies for sale; lawn mowing services; a reminder of Saturday's Blues Brothers tribute in the village hall.

With the nearest supermarket a 40-minute round trip away, David and Sylvia have set themselves up as the local provider of, well, everything. Books, flowers, electrical supplies, pet foods and masses of other non-food items all jostle for the limited space inside, with items hanging from every available beam and doorframe. Printer cartridges, David says, are a good little earner.

David's philosophy is that you never let a customer down. He tells a story of giving a customer the insulating tape from his own toolbox, and when someone came in for a bicycle puncture repair kit, which he didn't have, he did the next best thing and lent the man a bike.

There's room for specialist items such as jewellery from a local designer and Farrington's Mellow Yellow rapeseed oil from a nearby farm. A Creaton resident provides postcards and another sells Russian dolls through the shop. Pies and frozen ready meals come from Saul's down the road in Spratton.

As Sylvia says, being in a remote village can pose problems. Frequent suppliers are suffering as fuel prices rise - their sandwich provider has told them he can no longer offer sale or return, for example.

The lack of storage in the building also has a price; the piles of wine boxes and cigarette cartons in the family's dining room demonstrate how easily the line between business and domestic life can get blurred.

After breadth of stock, it's service that marks the store out. Laundry, dry-cleaning, coal deliveries, flowers ordered and films developed; it's all part of the offer. They deliver shopping to the elderly and more than once they've accompanied a resident on a hospital appointment.

The post office is perhaps the biggest draw, with local businesses relying on it and the Winters offering back-office services such as sticking on stamps, which they do in front of the TV in the evening.

As the locals are so keen to point out, it's the couple's involvement in the community that really endears them to the village. Sylvia has been quite clever in getting the local newspaper to cover various events, such as the recent Village award, the start of the Rural Shops' Alliance march to London and a visit from the MP. It keeps the shop in the public eye and reminds the rest of Northamptonshire what a special place Creaton is.

Time, as ever, is the couple's biggest enemy. With David having another job, and only three staff in the store, everyone works a long day, and they've had to pull out of some of their local commitments to devote time to the business. "The hours and the lack of holidays are the worst part of it, I suppose," says Sylvia, "but I had always wanted to run my own business and knowing all our customers and ensuring that the shop is the hub of village life is reward enough."
Fact File
Creaton Post Office

Size: 800sq ft

Turnover: Approx £5,000 pw

Staff: Three


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