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Restocking community spirit in rural Wales

May 26, 2015
Liz and Bob

Shop volunteers Liz with husband Bob

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. Opening a community shop in a rural area sounds like a simple idea but I know that every time a customer walks through the door it’s having an incredible positive effect. It’s not just about filling that person’s kitchen cupboards but restocking community spirit, writes Liz Hamilton, secretary and volunteer at The Capel Dewi Shop in Ceredigion.

We were new to the area but quickly found out that, over the years, local shops had closed along with a chapel and the local school – really ripping the heart out of the community. It’s a lovely area to live in but buying groceries, particularly if you just ran out of something, was not just a simple walk down the road – it was more of a planned weekly visit to the local town three miles away.

There is a very limited bus service here and houses are also quite spread out here so you can easily feel isolated and even lonely particularly if you don’t have a car. This feeling of isolation can be really harsh so creating a new hub for the community was really important.

Back in 2012, our local community group, Dolen Dewi, had the vision of opening a community shop. There had been varying opinions about whether it would work, but through a village survey we found that most people were encouraging, willing to support and even volunteer at the project.

Because of the recognised competition from other stores and supermarkets, a priority was ensuring that the community shop had its own identity to offer a unique shopping experience as well as simply being there for those store cupboard essentials.

Siop Dewi

Siop Dewi

So the dream turned into reality and the old kitchen area of the village hall was transformed into the shop thanks to help from a Big Lottery Fund Village SOS grant of £23,985. Initially set up by two part time co-ordinators, the shop is now run by volunteers and as it is not-for-profit so any money made is ploughed back into the shop or used to support the community it serves.And what makes it that unique shopping experience? Well there is a coffee shop for local people, visitors and tourists, free wifi and a lot of the produce is locally grown or sourced. Jams, chutneys, pies and pastries are among the things made locally and they are all hugely popular.

Not only that but a post office van now comes to the shop car park once a week so people can sort out things like pensions and mail again helping to provide services which are often lacking in rural areas. And the shop is even open when film club evenings are held at the community hall.

With it being a very rural area, many local jobs are in agriculture but the shop has also provided retail work experience opportunities.

Obviously the shop has not resolved every issue. We are lucky to live in a beautiful area but the lack of jobs and a local school means there are fewer young families here. Transport links are still poor and of course feelings of isolation still exist.

Official opening of the shop

Official opening of the shop

But the shop has given back a meeting place for the community, it’s supporting the local economy by selling local produce, it’s reducing feelings of isolation, it’s a stopping point for tourists and even our groceries are cheaper than supermarkets because we have low overheads mainly because we are all volunteers. Not only that but is giving people working and volunteering opportunities – my husband and I enjoying volunteering here every Thursday afternoon and it has helped us get to know many local people from the area.It’s lovely to hear how the Big Lottery Fund has supported projects in rural areas and how it is committed to creating more opportunities to boost rural areas in Wales over coming years.

Now is the time to invest in rural areas to help revive local communities and that sense of community.

We are proof that you can create something special from a simple idea with a little bit of help from the National Lottery.

The Big Lottery Fund recently announced the launch of our Strategic Framework and funding priorities for Wales. We have included within these a commitment to considering how we can support rural communities to develop responses to the particular challenges they face.

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