After the village of Westbury in Buckinghamshire lost its only shop, post office and other local businesses, the community wanted to create a hub to bring people together. A team united to create a shop and café connected to the village hall that would provide vital produce and act as a place for people to regularly meet. With the help of a Power to Change grant to fund equipment and staff costs for the first year, the team opened the doors in 2016.
Since then, the shop has evolved to focus on selling local produce. It is a platform for other local businesses and sole traders to bring their goods to market and become more well known in the area.
“We’re succeeding in really championing local businesses,” says Sue Lucas, chair at Westbury Community Shop. “First of all, we stock everything locally, and we have become the main outlet for our local vineyard. And we’re now the main outlet for an artisan baker in the village. Our manager has even set up a ‘Local Business of the Month’ scheme, bringing in local businesses to showcase them here.”
Finding its place during Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic was a turning point for Westbury Community Shop. Faced with added challenges when visiting the supermarket, more villagers turned to the shop for essentials. It became the true heart of the community and even brought in customers from surrounding villages. In two years, sales for both the shop and café increased sixfold.
The café also grew its outreach, and the food it produces now brings in the majority of the business’s income to support the shop. A serving hatch made it possible to provide drinks and baked goods to visitors, such as walkers and cyclists. A few months into the pandemic, the team created a heated outside seating area in the village hall’s veranda, which they continue using to this day. They also created a takeaway offering on Friday evenings and regularly sold 100 meals per day during periods of lockdown. This takeaway service remains a success, selling around 60 to 70 servings each Friday. The café now has exclusive use of the kitchen, catering for parties and events held in the village hall.
Crucially, Westbury Community Shop saw a peak in volunteers coming forward. As many as 70 people offered to help keep the business running through the pandemic, and this has boosted the community spirit and appreciation for this vital heart of the village.
Meeting the needs of the community
Westbury Community Shop has continually adapted to the needs of the community. In response to social isolation, it has created a Café Society programme of cultural events. These regular events host talks and discussions, bringing members of the community together to learn and interact.
The shop is also proud to champion local employment, particularly with young people from the village and surrounding area. It encourages them to get involved at the shop and café by hosting volunteer hours for the Duke of Edinburgh programme.
“Our vision is to keep going with those elements of our shop that make us different, like our unique fruits and vegetables and locally produced goods,” says Sue. “And our plan for the future is really to respond to the needs that we identify in the community.”