Cobham community saves 150-year-old village shop
PUBLISHED: 11:16 17 January 2013 | UPDATED: 11:42 17 January 2013
When the doors of a 150-year-old village shop in Cobham looked set to close for good, a determined group of local residents decided to step in.
Like many villages, Cobham once had a butcher, baker, sweet shop and other small businesses, but as has happened elsewhere, supermarkets took their custom.
But when the general village store, built as a house in 1411 and with a 150-year history of trading, closed two years ago, the impassioned residents of the 170-household community clubbed together to retain it.
Just under four weeks ago, Cobham Community Stores reopened after a year of community consultations, legal advice, fundraising, grant applications and shop renovations.
To the fanfare of a brass band, the ribbon was cut by Gravesham Mayor Lyn Milner and customers were welcomed into the shop, whose exposed brickwork, baskets of bread, and deli counter have had much thought put into them.
There is freshly baked bread every morning and locally made ready meals, cakes, conserves and chutneys. As well as other groceries and drinks the shop also sells local crafts, gifts and cards.
It is the quintessential country store and it is all – bar a paid-for store manager – being run by volunteers.
Gillian Burgess, who has been with the project from the start, says it is not just about offering a place for residents to buy groceries, but creating a hub for the community.
“Reopening the shop is going to have an enormous impact on the village,” she explains. “Much of the appeal of Cobham rests on its sense of community which is the reason many people have moved here and remain here.
“We wanted to create a hub in the village where people can bump into friends or chat with neighbours.”
The residents have formed a Community Interest Company, a legal company that means all money invested in the shop and made through the shop’s profits must be reinvested into the venture or into other community projects to be voted on at an annual shareholders meeting.
Shares are sold to anyone at £10 each. They can’t be traded and don’t pay financial dividends, but give them a say in how their shop is run.
To date there are about 120 shareholders from the village who between them have bought 682 shares.
Any one person is only ever given one vote which they can use to put forward suggestions for how to spend profits from the shop – estimated to be £150,000 in the first year.
Of course, getting off the ground needed a significant amount of investment that £10 shares wouldn’t reach on their own, so the group spent months fundraising with quiz nights and pamper evenings.
The bulk of the money – around £56,000 of £80,000 – came from grants including the National Lottery Fund’s Village SOS scheme, Gravesham Neighbourhood Forum and Kent County Council.
Now with its doors open, Cobham Community Stores will be open seven days a week, run by store manager Jaki Penfold and a rota of 30 volunteers.
With high hopes for the future, Gillian says: “This will not just be a place to buy bread and milk but one that will become an intrinsic part of our traditional village life once again.”