Popular shop marks 10-year anniversary - but now faces its biggest ever challenge in coronavirus crisis
A village shop run by a band of volunteers has celebrated its 10th anniversary - at the very time it has arguably become more important to its community than ever during the coronavirus crisis.
Sproughton had been without its own store for many years when the parish council held a public vote asking neighbours what facilities would most improve their quality of life.
A proposal for a new shop was overwhelmingly the most popular and, after years of hard work, Tithe Barn’s former tractor garage was converted into a store - which opened in 2010.
Grants from Suffolk County Council and other nearby trusts helped buy equipment and stock, while 30 volunteers were recruited to take three-hour turns serving customers behind the counter and filling in back office paperwork.
In that time, organisers say the shop in Lower Street “has become a place to exchange village news, have a chat if you are feeling down, advertise events, distribute tickets, and act as a post box for protest”.
But few could imagine that as it celebrated its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, March 25, it would play perhaps its most important role to date - on the frontline in the coronavirus crisis.
Even though the shop’s volunteer base has been depleted, with many aged over 70, it still opens for three hours on six days of the week - so people can get vital supplies they might not be able to get from supermarkets or online deliveries.
Volunteers are taking telephone orders from villagers and spend their afternoons packing and delivering to the most vulnerable in the neighbourhood.
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The shop - which in normal times is open for eight hours on five days of the week - has also brought in a policy of selling one pack of pasta, toilet rolls, paracetamol, kitchen rolls and eggs to each customer.
Rosalind Lavington, managing director of Sproughton Community Shop, said: “It is truly astonishing to us that 10 years later we’re still here.
“Sproughton is small village, within two miles of three huge supermarkets and a Co-Op. But we’ve done over £750,000 of business, had over 50 volunteers, contributed over £7,000 to village charities and helped several other community shops to set up.
“Our priority was to make sure that no-one in the village need rely on friends to have access to good food. In that, we have absolutely succeeded.”
Wendy Lavington, the manager who does all the purchasing, added: “A few of our lines are actually cheaper than the supermarkets. But we focus particularly on local produce.
“This means we have food security, support local businesses and offer exceptional quality.
“Some of our items, such as jumbo-sized free-range eggs from Flowton, you just cannot buy anywhere else.”
Volunteer Pat Coe said: “I was a bit nervous behind the till to begin with, but our customers are usually very tolerant and I soon got the hang of it.
“Giving customers a friendly welcome is part of the deal”.