One of Britain’s oldest shops saved by local volunteers

From The Daily Mail:

One of the oldest shops in Britain is being kept alive by a community who value it so much that half the village work there for free.

The village shop has been at the same premises in Itteringham, Norfolk, for 370 years, but was beginning to struggle to compete with rock-bottom prices offered by supermarkets.

Now more than 50 of Itteringham’s 120 residents work there voluntarily to keep the treasured village shop alive.

Back on its feet: One of the oldest shops in Britain is being kept alive by a community who have offered to work for freeBack on its feet: One of the oldest shops in Britain is being kept alive by a community who have offered to work for free

Part of the community: Former shop manager Albert Fairhead pictured outside the store in 1908Part of the community: Former shop manager Albert Fairhead pictured outside the store in 1908

Historic: Brian Fairhead pictured at the weighing scales inside the store in 1980Historic: Brian Fairhead pictured at the weighing scales inside the store in 1980

At any one time four members of the village will be working in the small store stacking shelves, pricing products, cooking, cleaning and delivering orders.

The volunteer workers at the community shop, which still sells the same locally grown produce first stacked on its shelves in 1637, saves around £350-a-week off the wages bill.

The saving represents 20 per cent of the shop’s £2,000-a-week turnover, which allows the store to break even.

And if the historic grocers ever has a rough patch in trading the whole village takes part in garden parties, pop-up restaurants and film clubs to subsidise the losses.

Without the support the community shop would be forced to close.

Shop manager Mike Hemsley, 55, said: ‘It starts with people just popping into the shop and talking to us then they offer to lend a hand.

‘Next thing they are our new delivery driver. It’s amazing really. It is such a closely knit village and we are all friends.

Shop manager Mike Hemsley's village shop is being saved from onslaught of the supermarketsShop manager Mike Hemsley, 55, said the help started with people just popping in and offering their services
Brian and Dorothy Fairhead, pictured here in the 1940s, took ownership of the shop in 1908 and remained on the lease for an incredible 86 years until Brian Fairhead was diagnosed with cancer in 1994
Community run: Albert Fairhead pictured outside the store in 1965Community run: Albert Fairhead pictured outside the store in 1965

‘One person will be stocking the shelves, another will be behind the till, then the next day they will be back at work and popping in as customers. When all the children turn 18 they come and help in the shop too.

‘Because most of the people here are volunteers I think they have an enthusiasm that salaried workers don’t have. The shop would be lost without all the villagers. But I think they would be lost without the shop too.’

The first recorded owner of the shop was a Richard Bell who sold groceries from the property in the 17th century.

But it is the Fairhead family who are the most celebrated owners of the store.

They took ownership of the shop in 1908 and remained on the lease for an incredible 86 years until Brian Fairhead was diagnosed with cancer in 1994.

The shop was on the brink of closure before villagers raised nearly £5,000 to keep its doors open. They formed the Itteringham Community Shop association in November 1994 just a few weeks after Mr Fairhead‘s death.

Valued: Volunteer Widge Savage at work in the shopValued: Volunteer Widge Savage at work in the shop

 

Community spirit: Volunteers at the shop has been open at the same spot for a staggering 370 years in 2003Community spirit: Volunteers at the shop has been open at the same spot for a staggering 370 years in 2003

The shop has been community run for 18 years making it one of the oldest of its kind in Britain. It is also one of the oldest shops continuously run from the same location.

The village are so proud of their traditional store they have now created a book, called The Village Shop, charting its 370-year history.

Author Maggie Vaughan-Lewis, who lives near the village, collected photographs and memories from the Itteringham villagers and cuttings from the local newspaper.

The shop was on the brink of closure in 1994 before villagers raised nearly £5,000 to keep its doors open. Here it is todayThe shop was on the brink of closure in 1994 before villagers raised nearly £5,000 to keep its doors open. Here it is today

She said: ‘The shop has existed way back into the 17th century and there has always been great support from our community.

‘Everyone here feels involved. We have not had a lot of development and we continue to do well against all the odds.’

The country’s oldest village shop is the post office in the Kent town of Chiddingston which was first opened in 1593, making it 417-years-old.

Just 38 years later RJ Balson & Sons butchers opened and have since been declared Britain’s oldest business, at 389-years-old.

Britain’s oldest shop is the Three Old Arches, which is part of the Chester Rows and was built in 1274 – an incredible 738 years ago.

According to the Plunkett Foundation Itteringham’s village shop is one of 283 community shops across Britain. The numbers are rising as more people begin to offer their support for local projects.

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