Suffolk coastal villagers’ concern over loss of ‘key’ business
PUBLISHED: 15:37 21 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:37 21 January 2019
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Suffolk villagers fear their local services are under threat after a local garage announced plans to close at the end of January 2019.
Plans to convert Friends Garage at Orford into nine homes, with a commercial unit and automated fuel filling services, have been submitted to Suffolk Coastal District Council. So far, 15 objections have been submitted, and villagers are rallying to try to preserve their community assets.
Orford General Store and post office, which made it the regional finals of the Countryside Alliance Rural Oscars alongside village butchery business The Meat Shed, has stepped in and said it would take on some goods sold at the garage, such as coals, compost, and pet and animal feed when the business closes - although its space is constrained.
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“In the last few weeks, we have learnt of the impending closure, of Friends Garage in Orford, which has provided so many vital services to our small community, and, so, once again, we have agreed to step into the breach, and commence retailing, many of these neccesities, without which, our elderly and infirm, would not be able to access locally,” said store manager Sue Gadd.
Village stalwart Laura Gillespie has worked at the garage, which still offers a traditional filling service, for 23 years. In 2012, she was awarded the British Empire Medal for helping the local community. The closure was “very sad”, she said, as the business, which includes a garage workshop, had retained a loyal customer base, and garage services such as fixing punctured tyres, would be missed. She is set to carry on until March at the site, where she does book-keeping, and manages the shop and forecourt, and has been invited to join the general store.
“Orford is different to everywhere else and they are always very loyal customers - if it weren’t for the customers, we would not be here,” she said. “The feeling in the village is not very good. They don’t like to lose such a big asset to the local community, which is understandable.”
But while they were still busy, it had got to the stage where the site needed “a lot put into it”, she said. Space at the general store was limited, she added. “It’s not going to be easy for them because they have not got the space, unfortunately, but they are going to keep it in the community which I think is very good.”
Orford General Store owner Sue Snowdon CBE, who was a top head teacher in London before buying the store two years ago, said it was a shame to lose village services. “It’s such a shame that that’s going to go and I think the heart goes out of local places if we don’t have local services which is why I was keen to take on the local shop,” she said.
There was definitely concern within the local community about the loss of the garage business, she said, but her own business was buoyant. “The irony is I’m looking at ways of expanding - the business is increasing.”