How 'wonderful community spirit' got Suffolk village through pandemic

Andrew Ward, owner of Andrew Wards Greengrocers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Andrew Ward, owner of Andrew Wards Greengrocers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

Businesses old and new have praised their village community for helping to support them through the pandemic.

Despite having just 2,500 inhabitants, Debenham is a village well served by local businesses. 

The usual suspects are all there: a Co-op, a pub and an Indian takeaway. 

But there are also some more unusual businesses in the small village.

Until recently it was called home by a specialist teapot shop that has now moved a few miles down the road.


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And there are several storied family-run firms in the village.

Two have been run by the same family for more than 60 years and one has even been in the same family for more than 300 years.

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Andrew Ward, whose family has been running Wards Greengrocers in Gracechurch Street since 1961, said: "It's more by luck than judgement really, there are just one or two of us who have stuck it out as long as we have.

Andrew Ward, owner of Andrew Wards Greengrocers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Andrew Ward, owner of Andrew Wards Greengrocers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

"There's a few places that have been around here for a long time, I think a certain amount of good fortune is involved in it and one thing and another.

"If we didn't enjoy it, then we certainly wouldn't do it. It's a quite a bit of a labour of love as much as anything else, really."

Mr Ward took over the business in 1981 and has just celebrated his 40th anniversary in charge.

Over the 40 years he has been at the helm, Mr Ward has seen both the business and the village change.

"40 years ago, you basically had two or possibly three types of tomatoes," he said. "Now, you can get about 22.  And everybody wants something different.

"A lot of stuff is available 52 weeks round now. Transportation has improved. Logistics have improved beyond all recognition.

"I would say our retail customer base here is probably more towards the older generation, because we're only open traditional shopping hours which doesn't suit modern day society so much."

Another of the village's stalwarts is Websters Newsagents.

"1958 my father bought this shop," said Ruth Boulton. "My mother's still here she's 92 going on 93. She loves to be involved with knowing her customers still. She's not in the shop but she does help me sort the papers."

Grace Webster and Ruth and Stephen Boulton, owners of Websters Newsagents. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brow

Grace Webster and Ruth and Stephen Boulton, owners of Websters Newsagents. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

Mrs Boulton said businesses had survived because the village is so "community-led", adding: "It's the loyalty of those who live here who mostly have lived here for a long time. Our customers are loyal and we like to think we do a good service."

That loyalty was on display during the pandemic, according to Mrs Boulton.

"Seven wonderful children I've had round here helping me deliver papers," she said. "They never missed a day through all that snow and that period of bleakness. 

"We have done what we needed to do to make this place safe.

"I honestly think we've done very well. The village was self-sufficient in a way."

But neither Websters nor Wards can claim to be the oldest store in Debenham.

Henry Abbott Hardware was established in 1707 and has been in the same family ever since. 

EADT - John HowardHenry Abbott of Debenham celebrate their 300th year anniversary.copy pic o

A copy of the first picture ever taken of Abbott's in Debenham in the late 1800s. Shared with this newspaper to celebrate the stores 300th birthday in 2007. - Credit: Wendy Turner

Abbotts Hardware in Debenham is having a new shopfront. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Abbotts Hardware in Debenham is having a new shopfront. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

The family business has branched out over the years, building the now adjoining Co-op and running a homeware on the high street.

Newer businesses in the village plan to follow the example set by Wards, Abbotts and Websters.

Shaun Palfrey and Deaglan Hall, owners of Palfrey and Hall butchers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Shaun Palfrey and Deaglan Hall, owners of Palfrey and Hall butchers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

Among these is Palfrey & Hall butchers.

Run by Shaun Palfrey and Deaglan Hall the business opened around four years ago.

Mr Palfrey said: "It's a small, small, tight knit community and you get to know all of your customers. 

"We get such a mix of locals as well — young and old. It's a feel-good community, everyone helps everyone else, that sort of thing."

Shaun Palfrey, co -owner of Palfrey and Hall butchers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown

Shaun Palfrey, co -owner of Palfrey and Hall butchers. Picture: Sarah Lucy Brown - Credit: Archant

While Palfrey & Hall has only been open for a few year Mr Palfrey has longer roots in the village having previously worked at another, now closed, butchers.

And, he says, he is not done yet. 

"We're here for the long haul," he said. "It'd be nice for Palfrey & Hall to be carried on when we're gone, as such."

The strong community spirit has not just been observed by business owners.

Richard Blackwell, vice chair of the parish council, said: "Debenham's got a wonderful community spirit which has come to the fore in the past months with the Covid pandemic. 

"People step forward. We had over 100 volunteers, in our Helping Hands scheme to deliver food parcels and get prescriptions for people who were isolating."

He added that in the last year had "most definitely" prided themselves on shopping local, with some businesses reporting that they had their best year ever as a result.

"I think the hope that people do keep shopping local to support our businesses," he said. "It seems to be the case at the moment, and I think time will tell." 

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