When the only shop and post office in the village of Pwllglas closed down 20 years ago, many believed it was an inevitable part of a terminal decline which was being replicated in rural communities throughout the UK.
Four years ago however, a group of villagers from Pwllglas near Ruthin in Denbighshire had very different ideas and decided to take innovative steps to reverse the erosion of rural life in their community and put plans in place to reopen the shop and the post office and create a hub which the whole village could be proud of.
Thanks to a helping hand from the National Lottery Community Fund’s Village SOS programme, a local store at Pwllglas was re-opened by the community three years ago. The new shop forms part of the local community hall and is run as a social enterprise. It employs three local people and is supported by a small army of over twenty dedicated volunteers.
Last year it was awarded a rural community equivalent to an ‘Oscar’ when it won the Countryside Alliance Welsh Village Shop and Post Office of the year award. One of the individuals behind the reversal in fortunes is 49 year old Sharon Newell. Sharon is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the social enterprise and also works as the Shop Manager during the week.
“When I moved here eleven years ago there was no shop and no primary school so there was no real meeting place for people,” explains Sharon. “We had an open village meeting and a local Councillor asked us if we wanted a space in the hall to open a shop. We decided to go for it and looked at getting the project off the ground. The Village SOS programme was launched around the same time and nearly half of the ninety thousand pounds we needed came from there. It probably wouldn’t have happened without that funding.”
To ensure that the shop remains a thriving and viable enterprise, the team have looked at innovative ways to bring in extra revenue. The shop provides Thai-Food takeaways, a dry cleaning service and a shop lottery. They also offer vegetable boxes from local producers and take bulk orders for heating oil which means that local people can heat their homes at a reduced rate. Solar panels installed on the roof of the hall also help reduce electricity costs for the enterprise and help generate additional income.
The shop is also open seven days a week and is open ten hours a day between Monday and Friday. “We have the convenience aspect, we can sell things that supermarkets don’t stock and we support local food producers in every way we can,” Sharon explains. “Every week we get a delivery of fresh local vegetables and we have an annual food festival which also raises money for the enterprise. We sell jams, cakes and preserves from local people and businesses also pay to advertise on our community noticeboard.
“Our local bus company went out of business so buses are few and far between. The shop means that people who can’t drive or don’t have access to a car don’t have to get on a bus anymore to get what they need.” Sharon has been taken aback by the response of the volunteers in the community. “They work a rota and they do it so they can meet new people and make friends and it’s great to see how it’s grown and influenced people in such a positive way,” she says.
“They get an enormous sense of community pride out of it and that they love being part of the success story. Four of our volunteers are over 80 years old and some of them have recently lost their partners. Volunteering at the shop has really helped them with their grieving and issues around loneliness and made them feel part of village life.”
According to Sharon, rural decline doesn’t have to be the case if you fight against it like they have. “We’ve gone beyond being a shop because we’ve always wanted to be much more,” she says. “People love it because without services like the shop and the community hall there is nowhere for them to congregate. What we have done is taken an empty building and turned it into an amazing social hub which has united us and made us stronger as a community.”