Community rally to back village shop plan
A long-awaited shop owned and managed by the community could be on the way for Fittleworth, with plans submitted for approval after a year of planning.
Residents have welcomed plans for the primarily volunteer-run store and cafe near the village hall as a much-needed amenity and community hub.
Parish councillor Alison Welterveden said the project was ‘a small shop with a big vision’, not just as a utility, but as a ‘focal point’ for the village to help people meet each other.
She said: “It was always much more than just being able to provide groceries to the village, it’s a social hub for the village.
“We really love the idea that we can all go to catch up somewhere as a community, because we don’t have that at the moment.”
So far, nearly 60 people have come forward to offer their services as volunteer staff, with others happy to offer help with finances, branding and even social media.
A shop manager and assistant manager would be paid members of staff, but having volunteers to help out will keep costs down and make sure products stay affordable, Cllr Welterveden explained.
In a survey of around 450 residents last year, 82 per cent ranked a village shop as a priority for the area.
“It’s taken a while because it’s a community shop and we’ve consulted with the community at every stage,” said Cllr Welterveden.
“It’s lovely to have got to this point now that we’ve got everyone’s views and input.
“We’ve got something up that we think will be widely supported by the village.”
The shop will be owned by a community body, and shares in the community body will be sold to residents to spread the ownership across the community that uses it.
If possible, the shop management hope to introduce a Post Office facility at the store to make up for the one that was lost with the village shop a few years ago.
The plans also include relocating the existing playground area closer to the village hall, complete with new, timber-based equipment.
A more challenging range of equipment is envisaged to cater for older children, as this is also lacking in the area.
Cllr Welterveden said Fittleworth Village School had expressed an interest in re-using some of the old and ‘well-loved’ equipment.
At the time of going to print, 15 comments of support have already been made on the application, with some residents writing they ‘can’t wait’ for the shop to open.
David Guilders wrote: “This is a wonderful, thought through plan that will put the unity back into community.
“This was in some respects lost when the last village shop closed. It will be a prospect for all to come together in friendship, as volunteers running our village shop.
“This is a real opportunity to solve the problem of loneliness in the village by involving all.”
Margaret Welfare said there was ‘geniune excitement’ about the shop as the main talking point in the village in recent years, while Shirley Williams said young and old would ‘benefit enormously’.
“It will provide a much missed and lacking service to the residents of Fittleworth and beyond,” she said.
Carolann Townsend said her family ‘totally support this wonderful new venture’.
She said: “Well done to all who have made this a possibility and we cannot wait for the shop to open.”