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St Mabyn once had no fewer than 14 shops, two petrol stations, a blacksmith’s and an abattoir. Britain’s first supermarket opened in 1964 – and everything changed. The proposed closure of the sole remaining shop and Post Office , announced in March 2018, would have effectively drawn a line under that period of history during which St Mabyn could reasonably be described as a sustainable local community.

Instead, the village would more accurately resemble a dormitory, with an extremely high percentage of elderly residents dependent on private transport. Research by Lloyds Bank suggests that proximity to a good retail outlet contributes 12% of residential property values. So a property which today has a market value of £250,000 could lose £30,000 in value if St Mabyn had been left with no shop.

Village shops are closing at the rate of 400 year. It is simply not possible for small retailers to realise the same economies of scale as supermarkets, or to compete on price or choice. Where village shops can compete, however, is convenience – particularly in relation to fresh foods such as bread, home-baked cakes, milk, vegetables etc.

But a village shop can only offer its “convenience” if it is actually open, and private shopkeepers often report that they have to work such long hours that their salaries are below the minimum wage. 22% of rural shopkeepers say they work more than 70 hours per week. Community shops, by definition, require a different business model – usually involving volunteers prepared to work without wages. If the shop includes a Post Office, the Post Office will pay a salary.

There are several organisations offering help and advice, notably the Plunkett Foundation - https://www.plunkett.co.uk/ According to Plunkett, a community shop typically involves 153 members, 7 directors, 30 volunteers, and 3.3 staff. On average, over the past five years, 17 community shops have opened each year. Plunkett claims that 95% of community shops are successful.

 

The Rural Shop Report from 2017 is instructive: https://www.acs.org.uk/sites/default/files/imported_images/2017/01/ACS-Rural-Shops-Report-2017.pdf

This is the story of how St Mabyn Community Shop was established, with some reports written at the time.

In April 2018, the St Mabyn Parish Council, responding to villagers' concerns as raised at an open meeting, set up a small working party of residents to undertake an outline appraisal of potential options to maintain some sort of retail service for the village. Various locations were investigated, including the Snooker Room adjoining the Village Hall, and eventually the decision was made to base the shop inside a "container" located on the site of "the old dinner hut"..... where formerly a petrol station stood, the building subsequently being used for many years as the canteen for the Primary School,

 A Report from the time...

"St Mabyn’s community shop project took a huge stride forward last night (Tuesday) when the parish council agreed to facilitate the delivery of the portacabin, possibly as early as next week.

The parish council decision ensures that St Mabyn should never go without a shop. There will be no “gap” in trading after the current shop closes. The community shop steering committee is applying to the Post Office to offer counter services as quickly as possible. Apart from the Post Office, the new shop should be able to open immediately it is needed.

The parish council is also supporting this community initiative with sufficient working capital to help transform the portacabin – subject to sufficient volunteers to help get it into shape.

The shop steering committee is delighted with the parish council’s response, which helps maintain momentum for the project while the Community Benefit Society completes its formal registration procedures with the Financial Conduct Authority."

On the 14th August 2018 a Portacabin was delivered to the site and work started immediately on preparing for its conversion to a shop. The event was widely covered in the local media and was supported by the MP for North Cornwall, Scott Mann and local Cornwall councillor Stephen Rushworth.

View the embedded image gallery online at:
https://www.stmabynshop.co.uk/our-story#sigProId3bb393de36

On the 22nd August the Financial Conduct Authority registered the St Mabyn Community Shop Ltd as a Community Benefit Society, and on the 25th August  the sale of newspapers was transferred for the exiting to village shop to the new enterprise, which did initially use the Snooker Room for this purpose. A small group of volunteers initially opened this facility in the mornings. Two weeks later the St Mabyn Community Shop had opened a bank account and prepared to open its initial share offer.

"It's an important day for the community shop project, as St Mabyn parish council meets this evening to consider if it can help the Community Benefit Society through the period while it waits for formal registration with the Financial Conduct Authority.

Without FCA registration, the CBS cannot open a bank account or raise money by issuing shares. FCA registration is now expected to complete around the end of August/early September.

The steering committee hopes the parish council can help, to ensure that St Mabyn is never without a shop. We are determined to ensure there is no gap in service.

Many residents have pledged to buy shares, and the project is well on the way to its £30,000 target. If all goes according to plan, and if the parish council agrees, the "pop up" shop portacabin could be on site next week.

There will then be a call for volunteers to help prepare the portacabin so that it is ready to open immediately it is needed."

"The application forms are now in! The St Mabyn community shop project has taken the formal step to register with the Financial Conduct Authority. We cannot issue shares until registration is complete.

Our application is being "sponsored" by the Plunkett Foundation, whose model rules we are adopting. https://plunkett.co.uk/

Typically it takes six weeks for the registration process to complete. The application needed four "founding members" from the steering committee: they are Neil Embley, Henrietta McLachlan, David Bishop and Graham Smith (acting secretary.)

In due course the steering committee will become a significantly larger "management committee" - elected by members - which will in turn need to elect a chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. This needs to happen at an Annual General Meeting.

The steering committee wants this to happen as soon as possible, but right now the priority is to get a shop up and running. This will involve submitting a planning application for the portacabin, probably within the next few days.

If all goes well, it will probably be September before we ask people who have expressed an interest to convert their "pledges" into paid-for shares. But there could be activity on site before then, as we have reserved the portacabin and are currently working towards a delivery date in early August."

 

"These are the first pictures of the portacabin which will soon be St Mabyn’s new community shop. It could arrive on site, next to the village hall, during the first week in August.

The portacabin is second hand and, from the outside, looks a bit tired. But it is very sound, and in good heart, and with enough volunteers to help spruce it up and decorate it, the Community Benefit Society steering committee hopes to have it ready for opening before the existing shop closes.

Carpenters, plumbers, electricians and decorators of St Mabyn – now is the moment to come to the aid of your community!

The steering committee is determined to make sure that St Mabyn is not left without a shop at any time. If you would like to volunteer to help this community venture, in any way, please email me: graham@stmabynshop.co.uk.

The extremely short timescale means that the practicalities of fitting out the new community shop and ordering stock – so as to welcome customers before the end of August – may have to take priority over some of the formal bureaucracy that goes with setting up a new business.

Viv Price, of the Plunkett Foundation, visited St Mabyn yesterday and warned us that completing all of the Financial Conduct Authority registration processes typically takes at least six weeks. This means we will probably not sell shares until September at the earliest.

So far, nearly 50 individuals have offered to become paid-up members of the community benefit society and we are, potentially, well on the way to raising the share capital we need.

We have also received more nominations for people to join the management committee. This is excellent news – nominations close today – and over the next few days we will be in touch with everyone who has indicated their interest and support. But please, at the moment, DO NOT PAY ANY MONEY TO ANYBODY! This is very important.

The steering committee meets this evening to consider issues like opening a bank account, but at the moment we do not have the structures in place to handle money. One of the reasons for considering a second hand portacabin is to keep start-up costs as low as possible.

The steering committee will also consider setting a target date for the community benefit society’s first Annual General Meeting. If you have indicated a willingness to buy shares, you will get several weeks’ notice of any “call for cash.”

We still also need to identify the solicitors and accountants we will need to ensure that we meet all of our statutory obligations (hint: if you are a solicitor or accountant, and might volunteer your skills, we would like to hear from you!)

We have also spoken with Cornwall Council’s planning department and are acting on advice, but we know we still have further work to do. The potential planning issues now also involve a possible car park, for the school, which would be next to the shop, behind the village hall. It is obviously sensible to try to develop a co-ordinated approach and we want to submit a planning application as soon as we can.

This means it is possible that the portacabin might be moved, after the new shop has opened. At the moment we do not have all the information we need, but we do have the backing of the St Mabyn parish council to use the land next to the village hall.

The most important issue is that St Mabyn is never left without a shop. There will be more news tomorrow."

By 1st October, following a tremendous amount of hard work by a large number of local residents, the shop in its new premises was fully stocked and ready to open  for business. The first 6 months trading showed a very healthy turnover with many local residents making frequent use of the shop. Applying to open the Post Office side of the business has been a long process but we are now hoping to start offering Post Office services from late June in 2019.

It has been a tremendous reflection of the community spirit in the village and the parish of St Mabyn that within a year of the announcement of the original village shop the residents have been able to establish this business, run by the community for the community, and we are all looking forward to seeing the Community Enterprise going from strength to strength and continuing to meet the need of local people.

 

The first year

The Carpenters, Electricians, Plumbers and Decorators of St Mabyn, along with many other people and notably a local building firm, responded enthusiastically to this appeal and the Portacabin was quickly transformed with woooden cladding and a slate roof, with a covered walkway to allow access to the door of the shop. Over the following months various addition were made so that storage and display areas were available for fruit and vegetables, coal and logs, potatoes, and the daily newspaper delivery. A recycling area was established where various things not covered by the council recycling scheme can be disposed of responsibly.

In February the first shareholders' meeting was held, where the steering committee reported on the very positive start that had been made. Some members of the Steering Committee stood down at this point and a new Committee was formed. To quote from the report at the meeting...

"Chairman Martin Bailie said it was remarkable that so much had been achieved in such a short period of time. It was only nine months since St Mabyn learned that the old village stores was to close. The meeting was regularly punctuated by applause, as members celebrated the success of the venture. Martin said one of the additional benefits of the shop was how it had so quickly become a focal point for community life, attracting customers drawn by the welcoming, cheery banter of the volunteers."

Initially, Neil and Gill Embley acted as Shop Manager. Their business skills, knowledge and experience gained from running the old shop some years previously meant that the shelves were full of the things local people wanted to buy, and very soon it became clear that we did have a viable business. Neil and Gill initailly agreed to help out for 6 months.... in actual fact they continued until the summer of 2019, when it was evident that enough money was being taken to pay for a Shop Manager, and eventually two Managers were appointed on a job-sharing basis.

On the 1st October we celebrated the first anniversary of the opening of the shop, with a visit from the children of St Mabyn School in the morning and a volunteers' party in the evening; we were very fortunate to have captured the attention of the BBC Spotlight programme, who put out a live broadcast featuring the evnt. Customers were offered cakes and sweets all week to thank them for their use of the shop.

The process of transferring the Post Office to its new location took longer than expected, but eventually the new counter was installed and on the 23rd October 2019 we finally started to offer Post Office services; there was a period of only 6 days between the closure of the old PO and the opening of the new, and we are delighted that villagers can still now access a range of postal and banking services. A number of volunteers have been trained to serve behind the Post Office counter and a new rota arranged accordingly.

We now look forward to consolidating our position, hopefully increasing our turnover and the ways in which we can serve our community and visitors to our village.