‘Hampshire Life‘ wanted to know what makes the perfect village shop and, of course, they came to us for some advice!
“Woodgreen Community Shop, in the New Forest’s north-western corner, was reborn from the old commercial village store. When closure was imminent, with help from The Plunkett Foundation, the village set up the Woodgreen Community Shop Association at the end of 2006 and took over its running. This was followed by four years of intensive fundraising efforts along with grant applications which led to the Shop moving into purpose-built premises in 2011 (on a site owned by the Parish Council).
Julie Bottone, one of two part-time managers, attributes the shop’s success to community engagement and research: “When we started we did a tremendous amount of research. We found a lot of village shops focused on high end goods, but had no basics such as baked beans and loo rolls. We wanted our shop to reflect the needs of our customers, encompassing cheaper, mid-range and high-end products. This is a useful shop; people don’t come here simply because they feel obliged to support it. We are really careful with buying and pricing. You can’t compete with supermarkets on price so we don’t, although essential items like milk, eggs and butter are all reasonable.
“As part of our lottery grant we had to source 15% of our produce locally, but that is nearer 30% now with around 50 local suppliers as food miles and provenance are important to people.”
David Mussell, one of the shop’s committee members continues: “We sell huge amounts of meat as the New Forest is brilliant for beef, pannage pork and venison.” Suppliers include local Hale Pig and Poultry and Jack’s Jacobs (and pigs) grazing in the field behind the shop.
They continue to listen to customers. David explains how they undertook a huge survey two years ago and arranged focus groups “around the kitchen table” – taking on board many of the findings. Similarly, popular tasting evenings scoring local beers, gins and wines provide valuable feedback as well an opportunity for a village get-together. Initiatives encompass a newsletter, loyalty card scheme which gives back thousands to the community, deliveries to the immobile and events such as an annual Christmas evening that’s become a village tradition.
Services include the post office, although as David explains: “The Post Office makes a loss; always has; always will. So, the shop subsidises the Post Office, however the Post Office brings people into the shop.”
Other services are less tangible. Julie again: “We have an elderly population who come in every day – it’s a real hub for them. They like to come and chat and that’s important.”