Last weekend I dashed from a coffee morning in Kingsclere to see the re-launch of the village shop in St Mary Bourne. Sir George Young, in what was one of his final acts as MP, cut the ribbon on a building that is so much more than just a convenience store. I counted over 100 village residents who were there to show their commitment to what is actually a vital social hub for the village.
For me, the event was great to see, and also very well timed, as the following week I held a village shops summit in Hurstbourne Priors village hall. From the very first days of being the conservative candidate here I have been struck by just how many villages still have their shops and indeed how many have more than one. From places like Kingsclere and Overton, which still have proper high streets, to Enham Alamein and my own village of Abbotts Ann, which have single village shops and post offices, people across this constituency are lucky to have a network of village stores that help to keep communities alive.
But village shops live a precarious existence and sadly we have seen some struggle and one or two close. So the summit was designed to come up with a series of themes and campaigns that we can put into action whoever wins the election in a few weeks time that might help sustain them.
As you can imagine, the evening was very lively with strong views expressed around the table. We covered almost every aspect of running a village shop from marketing expertise and signage, to post office rules and parish councils. We talked about what the government can do, what the Post Office should do and what the county council is doing to help.
But there is one thing we talked about that was clearly the responsibility of us all: to be a loyal customer. All the shops worried that supermarkets and e-commerce deliveries would be their stiffest competition and drive them out of business. So we decided to try and work up a “Five Items” campaign – designed to encourage people to think about buying at least five items a week from their shop. If everyone did that, all the shops would be secure.
Village shops are a classic case of “use it or lose it” so as we put our plans together, please use your local shop if you’re lucky enough to have one. Because as the saying goes: “You won’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”.
Summit Participants Headley & Ashford Hill
Overton Traders Association
St Mary Bourne
Hampshire County Council