Polstead Community Shop, one of the oldest in the country, has served its village well for over thirty years. Its success arises from the commitment of dozens of villagers over the years, who have enjoyed working together to provide a welcome and vital service to their community.
Polstead Community Shop opened in March 1984 in a converted second-hand caravan parked in an old apple orchard next to the green in the centre of the village.
Just after opening day, 1984
Polstead is in beautiful countryside off the beaten track in Suffolk, in the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has a population of about 800 people, including children, scattered in five hamlets over a very wide area, with some 250 living in the centre of the village within comfortable walking distance of the village green. There is almost no passing trade except for delivery vans, some walkers and the occasional cyclist or visitor. The Shop truly caters for the village.
The idea of a community shop was born in October 1983 and came from Ruth Crabtree, a longstanding member of Polstead WI. Polstead had been without a shop for ten years, and although there were no community shops at all in Suffolk then (there are now at least ten), we turned for advice to the Rural Community Council for Suffolk (now Suffolk ACRE). There was only a handful of community shops in the entire country in those days, but we were given helpful advice. Following public meetings and wide consultation in the village, the steering committee of about a dozen people felt able to venture into the unknown.
Only five months after the idea was first put to the village, the Shop opened. It had cost a grand total of £2,000, much of it raised in the village with trading bonds, fund-raising events and donations, and the rest provided by loans from the parish council, Babergh District Council and one or two local charities (all these loans were paid back within a year). The caravan was generously donated, as was a lot of the equipment we needed. The land we were on was leased from a local farming family, the Riddlestons of Cock Farm, at a peppercorn rent. We had support from everyone we approached.
From the first week we opened it seemed likely that the idea was going to work, since we more than doubled our initial turnover estimate.
During the years that followed we were delighted to win quite a few awards and to attract a great deal of publicity, appearing on national and local TV and radio and in national and local newspapers, journals and magazines. We exceeded all our expectations.
The new premises
In September 1987, three years after we had opened, we moved into a small purpose-built extension to the village hall next door, built largely by voluntary labour and costing about £11,000 to complete. This time grants were forthcoming instead of loans, although we undertook an intensive six months of fund-raising in the village too.
The Post Office
In 1999 the Post Office, housed until then in a private garage across the village green, moved into the Shop following the retirement of the postmistress. We are fortunate that it is still here today, providing an invaluable service as well as local employment.
We took the opportunity at the time to remodel the inside of the Shop to accommodate the Post Office and to freshen our image.
By 2015, it became clear that most of the original refrigeration appliances were becoming inefficient, to the point of barely meeting current food hygiene standards and that total redecoration of the Shop was needed.
A whole new programme of re-organisation was planned, beginning in February 2016 with the insulation of the Shop Store, in preparation for its conversion to include the Royal Mail sorting Office.
The extra space created inside the Shop allowed us to re-design and re-fit the interior, prior to re-decoration. We were also able to fit in a couple of small tables and chairs for customers to share the occasional cup of tea or coffee.
The alterations were undertaken using local tradespeople and with many hours of volunteer labour. We were proud to have been able to keep the Shop open during the entire process.
The project was financed in three ways: with Shop funds, which had been put aside over the years especially for this purpose, with a grant from the Parish Council and with private donations.
By May 2017, we were able to celebrate the completion of our new, light, spacious premises. Over seventy people joined us in the Village Hall for a celebratory drink and cakes. Since its inception, the Shop has had four Chairpersons, all of whom were able to join us for this occasion! from l to r: Christine Miller, Mandy Hall, Erica Pomerans and Angela May
How we are run
The Shop has always been non-profit-making, with all surplus funds being reinvested in the Shop or to help other village organizations. Entirely volunteer-run, it is open for 28 hours a week (the Post Office is open every morning). Volunteers have always numbered between two to three dozen and the regulars usually give a couple of hours every week or two.
There is no manager, paid or otherwise, but since becoming a Community Interest Company in 2010, we have a Management Board of elected members, managers serving a term of up to three years, with the option of re-election after this period. Over the years scores of people have been involved one way or another in running the Shop, the reason being, perhaps, that everyone enjoys it so much. It has proved a wonderful way for newcomers to meet new people and for the rest to keep in touch. We have tried to provide over the years what Polstead wants.
Most importantly, the Shop has been from the beginning the indispensable social focus for the village that we hoped it would be. It is a place where villagers can meet, exchange news and views, and help make village life go round.
Our long-lived success, due to the sustained and strong commitment of so many people since 1984, has been a source of great pride and satisfaction to the whole village.
And the future?
We are continually looking ahead and planning for the future. We have up-dated our section of the Polstead website and now have our own Facebook page.
The Shop’s lease has been secured until 2032 and the Post Office is currently renewing its lease for a further five years until 2022.
We intend to serve Polstead both well – and well into the future.
Polstead Community Shop CIC is a company limited by guarantee,
registered in England under Company Number 7461050
Its registered office is: The Green, Polstead, Colchester, CO6 5AL Tel: 07833 206797