When Uley’s shop and Post Office faced closure, the villagers forged a plan to keep it running.
12 years on, Uley Community Store and Post Office in Gloucestershire is a thriving example of community-ownership, run on goodwill, hard work, and local leadership.
“Save Our Shop”
Uley Community Store and Post Office sat in a handsome building on Uley’s main street.
A steady stream of people visited the store each day for Post Office services, to buy groceries, or to say a quick, ‘hello’. But in 2010, the shop faced closure.
The people who were running the shop and Post Office at the time, decided they wanted to sell and they put the premises on the market, but because of the financial situation at the time they couldn't sell. They then got to a stage when they were going to close the shop.
Faced with losing their local shop and Post Office, the villagers formed a committee to look at how to keep it running. The committee explored whether the shop could move to another premises and what would be involved in keeping it where it was.
They approached the Plunkett Foundation, which helps communities navigate community ownership, and the Post Office Area Manager.
“We designed a leaflet which went out with the Parish magazine to every household in our village, and a couple of surrounding villages, saying, ‘Save Our Shop’.
“We put forward what we planned to do, how much money we needed to raise, and the vehicle to which people could donate the money.
“The villagers were amazing. Within seven weeks, we had raised over £50,000. We then put forward a proposal and got a lease to rent the ground floor as a community shop.”
A Plunkett Foundation grant funded the necessary refurbishment, and after five days work, the shop reopened under community ownership.
“Proud to volunteer”
Today, the store is run with a combination of paid staff and volunteers. It’s overseen by a management committee with a chairperson, secretary, treasurer, book keeper and a volunteer co-ordinator. As Postmistress, Angela represents the Post Office.
“If you don't have volunteers, you don't have a community shop. We have about 50 volunteers that we call upon; some just do ad-hoc, and some people do one or two shifts every week.
“I think people volunteer because they want a village shop and Post Office, but I think people also want to take part and have ownership of their community store.”
“Also in our village, which has a high proportion of retired people, it gives some a feeling of purpose.”
“People come here and they have a social life. They meet other people in the village, and it's turned into a real hub for our community.”
Giving back to the community
Angela said the shop and Post Office played a much larger role than initially assumed.
“We thought it would just be a place for people to come and get their milk, eggs, newspaper and their stamps, and to do a bit of banking. But actually, it’s more than that.”
The shop offered its front window to local groups and charities to advertise, and the shelves stock local products.
“We buy our bread from two local bakers. We use two local butchers for our sausages and bacon. We use a local cheesemaker and we buy local wine and local beer.”
The shop also supports local charities through its profit-sharing scheme, Uley Community Spirit.
“Every year after the accounts are done, we look at the profit made, if any, and we give 50% to local charities or village groups.”
“We're trying to spread any excess profit that is made throughout the village.”
Advice to other communities
Angela said managing and running the shop and Post Office was a lot of effort, but well worth it.
She offered some advice to those considering community ownership.
“The first thing is not to assume your village wants a shop. Go to your village, organise a meeting, and have it quite structured.”
“Ask, who wants a village shop? Who would use it, what for, and do we want to keep the Post Office? Who is prepared to volunteer – including the back-office stuff?”
“It is going to be a lot of work, but don’t think about it; just do it.”
Chris Cowcher, from the Plunkett Foundation, told us:
"Plunkett Foundation is proud to be able to support groups like Uley, with advice and support at every stage of their project. From the earliest point of a community idea - to consider setting up a community business, to creating a legal structure and appropriate business plan, groups can access appropriate expertise relevant to their project, at the point when it is needed most.
"In order to support groups UK-wide, Plunkett works with a range of partners to provide access to our services. In Uley for example, Gloucestershire Rural Community Council were a constant source of support through the group's developmental phases.
"Any groups looking at the community business approach to run their local Post Office can visit www.plunkett.co.uk to see more about the support available."