KIRTLINGTON COMMUNITY SHOP AND CAFÉ
Current situation and our vision
In the early 1970s, the Oxfordshire village of Kirtlington had 2 small general stores, a butcher’s (with slaughterhouse behind) and a milk run, delivered round the village directly from a centrally placed farm. Over the intervening years, the shops have all closed, the last one in March 2020. That small shop, which won ‘Village Shop of the Year’ in 1994, had been a greatly valued hub of village life, cited by a large percentage of respondents to the 2011 Kirtlington Plan as what they liked most about the village.
The closure of the shop meant the loss not only of a convenient general store but a focal point of the community. There was now nowhere for people to meet on a casual basis, to hear local news, find out about upcoming events or purchase tickets for them. There is an active village hall, where the various different groups and societies meet, but these are all pre-arranged events: what was missing was a meeting place that would be open all day for people to drop in for occasional purchases and a coffee or simple lunch with others.
Purchasing the old village shop was not an option for the community but surveys had confirmed that there was still widespread support for the idea of a shop in the village. So a group of concerned villagers tried to find alternative venues for a replacement.
In the course of this research, several members of the group had visited community shops in other nearby villages and become convinced of the potential of the community shop model as long as a suitable venue could be found. One of the chief advantages of the previous shop had been its location on the busy A4095 which meant that it benefitted from passing trade. But several of the successful community shops we visited are not on a main road. And when some of us went to the community shop and café in the Hertfordshire village of Wigginton, we saw that it was possible for such an enterprise to flourish even in a quite rural setting. The Wigginton shop is a little outside the village, on the edge of a playing field, next to a children’s playpark. It is an attractive, custom-built wooden building, with a small amount of indoor seating for the café and outdoor tables looking over the playing field. This suggested to us that it might be possible to do something similar in Kirtlington, in the space next to the Village Hall.
The Kirtlington Community Shop and Café would not aim to compete directly with local convenience stores, such as the Co-op at Bletchingdon or the Sainsburys Local at Heyford Park. The shop would stock basic, everyday grocery items (bread, milk, eggs, butter, tea, etc), but would incline towards higher-end produce and locally sourced goods – along the lines of a ‘farm shop’ with a similar interior aesthetic. This is in order to differentiate it from the local ‘chain’ convenience stores and to generate higher profit margins. Many successful community shops operate on this model.
The incorporation of a year-round café element (with indoor and outdoor seating) serving good quality coffee and other drinks, cakes, pastries, ready-made sandwiches and such like is an essential part of the project:
- to create a community focus and meeting place for people to meet, talk and make new connections.
- to generate higher profit margins than are achievable on shop purchases.
The shop would be licensed to sell alcohol. It would be staffed by a paid, full-time manager, supported by volunteers. Community engagement to generate sufficient volunteers would be vital. During the first 1-3 years, as turnover should increase but community engagement is likely to decrease, it may be possible to recruit 1 or even 2 additional part-time paid staff.
Opening hours have yet to be determined, but the aim would be to operate 7 days per week, from early morning to early evening on weekdays.
There would be limited Post Office services at fixed times during the week, but the shop would function as a parcel drop-off and collection point.
The shop will also provide a place of employment, both voluntary and paid, for
the people in the community. It would therefore aim to employ people of all ages, from those at school to those in retirement, and to engage as wide a spectrum of the community as is possible.
Long term sustainable vision
• To provide the services that the community wants
• To reduce the need to travel longer distances for the same services
• To support local producers
• To contribute to a strong community
• To have a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the community
Kirtlington residents have been frequently asked what they think about having a shop in the village:
- In 2011, when the existing village shop was still doing reasonably well, a majority of respondents who commented on the Parish Plan reported that the shop was what they most liked about the village.
- in 2019, when the shop was in difficulty, a survey showed that a majority wanted to help the shop to survive. However, despite this goodwill and a rota of volunteers, ultimately it proved impossible and the shop closed in 2020.
An important reason was the opening of a Co-op in the neighbouring village of Bletchingdon, one mile away. The convenience and range offered by such a national chain simply cannot be matched by a small, independently owned and funded store. It was realised then that any future village shop would have to be a very different operation. The best possible option would be the well-tried and successful model of a shop owned and run by the community. The exploration of setting up a small shop in a room at the Dashwood public house followed.
- another questionnaire was issued in 2020, resulting in significant pledges of regular spending in the shop made by some 80 households. But in the end, it became clear that the space was simply too small and the projected running costs were too high for that solution to be viable.
The enormous advantage of the present site is that the Estate Managers are offering the land rent-free and there is enough space to accommodate a shop and café of an appropriate size. There is nowhere on the main road that could offer equivalent space without the need to pay rent.
The shop steering group distributed a leaflet throughout the village in March 2022, inviting villagers to a meeting in the village hall on 24th April, where representatives of successful community shops in the neighbouring villages of Islip and Tackley spoke about their experience. The meeting was attended by more than 50 people and was felt to be generally supportive. The steering group then set up a stall at the village fete in June 2022, focused on the shop and several villagers then signed up as supporters.
Results from the 2023 questionnaire
On the basis of all this experience and in view of the clear advantages of having a shop owned and run by the community, in February 2023, a further, detailed survey was distributed along with an explanatory leaflet (both included as appendices) to all households in the village. Of the households that could be expected to respond, excluding those used as short-term rental properties, too far from the village centre or with very elderly residents, more than 70% returned the questionnaire.
Details of the survey were published in the April/May 2023 issue of Kirtlington Village News, but the overall results can be summarized as follows:
The table shows that:
- over 83% of respondents thought that having a shop was important. Indeed several of those who were sceptical about the project’s viability or gave a low score for importance, said they were willing to support it by using it, volunteering and buying shares.
- 185 households have indicated that they are willing to buy shares, representing roughly half of the total of households that could be expected to respond. Others indicated they needed more information before committing themselves. Once planning permission was granted, the formal share offer would be announced in a Share Prospectus, setting out the full terms of the offer, including the possibility of tax relief on larger sums.
- Nearly half of respondents took the trouble to suggest goods they would like to see on sale. Most comments support the idea of a combination of competitively priced essentials and a selection of higher-end goods, as far as possible locally produced.
- Over 100 people said they would be willing to volunteer in the shop. We were greatly encouraged by the number willing to commit to weekly shifts and confident that with even minimal support from the much larger numbers willing to help on an occasional basis, that there will be a good bank of volunteers to ensure a generous level of service in the shop and café.
- 9 people with retail and management experience were willing to work full or part-time, with 41 others identifying skills, experience and interests that they could contribute.
The Steering Group believed that the 2023 questionnaire served to confirm the desire of a clear majority of the village to have a shop, to show the substantial readiness of villagers to contribute financially to a community-owned shop and to underline that we could expect there to be sufficient volunteers to enable the shop to run.
PUBLIC ACTIONS TO DATE
May 2023 The Farmers’ Market held on the site of the proposed shop and café was very well attended, with large numbers of villagers purchasing products, including from 6 local food producers (North Aston Organics and North Aston Organic Dairy; Manor Farm and Willowbrook Farm, Hampton Gay; Tiddly Pommes apple juice, also based in Hampton Gay and Bibury Trout Farm), and breads, pies and pasties baked on site. They were also able to enjoy freshly ground coffee and home-made cake in the sunshine on the site of the proposed café.
September 2023: Planning Application submitted to Cherwell District Council: 23/02523/F
Comments to be received by 19.10.23
November 2023: Farmers Market on 4th November, 12noon – 4pm in Kirtlington Village Hall