Enham Village Store_Leslie and Tim

Enham Village Post Office & Stores in Andover was just approaching its 19th anniversary last November when it became the target of an overnight burglary. The attackers broke through the side entrance of the store and smashed through the counter, accessing all of the locked drawers and stealing the tobacco. 

“It was a professional team … completely focused on tobacco,” states shop owner Leslie Francis, who runs the store with husband Tim. The police were quick to respond, but failed to catch the robbers. 

GettyImages_Smashed door_Credit Animaflora

Source: Stock Image from GettyImages_Credit Animaflora

“They were in and out in less than five minutes,” says Leslie. “The car that they used, which was seen at their next attempted burglary just down the road, had been stolen and was in fact later found burnt out in Basingstoke, which is 16 miles away. There’s nothing that came from our burglary that allowed any forensics or anything.” 

Unfortunately, it was far from an isolated incident. “By chance, our tobacco rep came in that afternoon and told us it was basically killing his business because of the amount of break ins overnight and tobacco targeted thieves that were around, added to which obviously the retail industry is suffering terribly with shoplifting,” says Leslie. 

Once this type of criminal has decided to target your store, there’s little that can be done to prevent an attack, she says. “We’ve reviewed our own security arrangements, we’ve always been very security conscious because although we are in a village, we are on a main road and I think that there wasn’t really anything else we could do,” she says. “The police said that if they’re going to get in, they’re going to get in. They’ve got all the professional equipment.”

The robbers are still at large. “These guys knew exactly what they were doing and that’s been shown because they’ve been on the Oxfordshire, Berkshire border and when they hit us, the police told us they were on the Hampshire Wiltshire border. They’ve now moved down into Dorset and Sussex,” she says.

Enham Village Store_Celebrating the medal

Leslie celebrates her British Empire Medal with Tim

Leslie explains that the village of Enham is unique because the majority of the people that live there are tenants of a charitable trust called Enham Trust, which primarily owns the village. The Trust specialises in helping disabled people to live independently and the store has supported its community in numerous ways over the years, adapting the shop to make wider aisles to allow for easier wheelchair access, fundraising and holding events for the village. In fact, Leslie was recognised in the 2003 New Year’s Honour list with a British Empire Medal for providing services to her community. 

As Enham Trust was responsible for the building, the stolen stock was where Leslie and Tim took the biggest hit.

Prior to the break-in, Leslie’s insurance was coming up for renewal and she had already had a conversation with her insurer and opted to increase the sum of her tobacco cover due to increased prices. 

But unfortunately, the changes had yet to take hold because the renewal date was two weeks after the burglary and so Leslie’s current insurance didn’t cover the full amount that was stolen. 

Enham Village Store_Poem

When customers heard what had happened, they were distraught. “They felt really upset, really angry and aggrieved for us because of everything that we do for everybody else,” says Leslie. 

“So people wanted to know, what can they do? How can they help?

“Unfortunately, we did have a shortfall and so we were financially penalised and that’s where people wanted to help,” she says.

A friend of the couple set up a Go Fund Me account to raise money, while another pal wrote a poem, which was published on the store’s Facebook page, urging people to support the business by shopping there.

Enham Alamein bauble decorations

In addition, one local gave Leslie some crafts to sell in-store, telling her to keep the money to go towards the shortfall.

Another lady created an Enham Christmas 2023 Bauble and took donations for the store. “People have been absolutely marvellous and just really wanted to just help, I suppose to repay all the good that we’ve done in 20 years,” says Leslie. 

The money raised has been put towards new shutters for the store, which were purchased at trade price by Leslie’s daughter, Michelle, who works in the industry, and fitted by her son, David.

“On the front of the shop, we’ve always had a locked door which had an internal security screen, but that was obviously visible,” Leslie explains. “So we thought, prevention’s got to be the way to go. So we put a shutter on the outside so they [would-be burglars] can’t see a way inside, they can’t see what’s behind the shutter, to see how easy or difficult it would be for them to get in and that was the logic in the thinking.”

Enham Village Store_Thank You

But the story doesn’t stop there - Leslie was determined to share her experience in order to help other retailers. As a Wessex Guild member at Spar, Leslie bravely opened up about the incident with her peers and, worked with fellow Spar retailer Susan Connolly, who was also a victim of a break-in last year, to come up with useful advice for other retailers

She has also been in contact with the convenience sector trade body. “We’ve made some inroads into communicating with the ACS [Association of Convenience Stores] about the crime and what you can do to protect yourself,” she says.

She claims that Post Office has also helped raise awareness. “Post Office is very good and responded with an article: ‘How does a burglar see your property?’”

Leslie has also established a Test Valley Village Shop Associates group. “There’s a lot more that we can do to share communication to protect people because prevention is better than a cure,” she says. 

She also wants to help other victims of break-ins. “Not everybody has a post office, so not everybody has Grapevine, which is the alert system for post offices for suspicious and criminal activity, and so an awful lot of people feel isolated and think that it’s just happening to them. And I just wanted to be able to do something to support more people in the event that they went through what we went through.” 

Whatever is thrown at the store, Leslie remains determined to continue serving the village of Enham and supporting her fellow retailers. “I’ve always said I will fight for this community service,” she says. “It’s absolutely vital, which is why I want I work with peer groups and Post Office to improve things for the future.”

Enham Village Store_Leslie and Tim celebrating 18 years