Putting the vil­lage shop at the heart of ru­ral life

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

Once places to pick up a make-do sliced loaf and af­ter-hours milk (al­though you can for­get find­ing skimmed), vil­lage shops have mor­phed in re­cent years from ba­sic stores for the sole con­ve­nience of the lo­cal com­mu­nity, to tourist at­trac­tions that draw food­ies and hol­i­day­mak­ers from miles around.

“When peo­ple look for their dream coun­try house, gone are the days when they yearn for a manor set in sprawl­ing acres a mile from any­where,” says Philip Har­vey of buy­ing agency Prop­erty Vi­sion.

“To­day’s buyer wants an at­trac­tive house set on the edge of a vil­lage that is only a few min­utes’ walk from a good cap­puc­cino – hence the rise of the vil­lage shop.”

Some have even be­come des­ti­na­tions in their own right, like in the Home Coun­ties and Cotswolds vil­lages that at­tract wealthy Lon­don­ers and Ly­cr­a­clad hordes on two wheels at week­ends. “So much of life is now about ex­pe­ri­ence rather than as­sets that even vis­it­ing the vil­lage shop – now more likely to be a farm shop with a deli and café – has be­come an event,” adds Har­vey.

Dayles­ford, the or­ganic farm shop in Glouces­ter­shire, paved the way for the vil­lage store re­vival – along with The Hun­gry Guest in Pet­worth, West Sus­sex, says Har­vey. “When its now-cel­e­brated deli first opened, lo­cals were scep­ti­cal as to how long it would last, but it has been the most out­ra­geous suc­cess.”

The ap­petite for farm shops in the UK is still in­creas­ing, with the num­ber hav­ing tripled from 1,200 in 2004 to around 3,500 now. They have be­come places to pro­mote lo­cal pro­duce, and pro­vide a com­bi­na­tion of the es­sen­tials that peo­ple need with the or­ganic, gourmet lux­u­ries they like to in­dulge in.

This kind of trendy farm shop, with its spe­cial­ist line in ar­ti­san cheese or craft beers, is likely to ap­pear in vil­lages that al­ready at­tract a well-heeled crowd, but it can also help put a lo­ca­tion on the map among re­lo­cat­ing buy­ers in search of the per­fect coun­try spot.

“For a vil­lage shop to re­ally suc­ceed, there needs to be a level of af­flu­ence to start off with. From there, it’s a snow­ball ef­fect,” says Har­vey. “The vil­lage shop is a sig­ni­fier of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, but there is usu­ally a tourist ap­peal to the vil­lage, too, such as Slin­don, a Na­tional Trust vil­lage be­tween Chich­ester and Arun­del with a lovely com­mu­nity vil­lage shop and plenty of spots to cater for the cy­clists pass­ing through.” In one of the most soughtafter vil­lages of the Cotswolds, near the shops of Bur­ford, is this seven-bed­room house with large gar­den.

One woman who knows all about turn­ing the vil­lage shop into the allsing­ing, all-danc­ing hub of the lo­cal com­mu­nity is Laura Hamil­ton, best known to many as the pre­sen­ter of Chan­nel 4’s A Place in the Sun series.

She is equally fa­mous to the res­i­dents of the pri­vate Webb Estate in Pur­ley, Sur­rey – where she lives with her hus­band, Alex Goward, and their chil­dren, Rocco, four, and Tahlia, two – as the lo­cal post­mistress and owner of Lord Roberts on the Green.

Two years ago, Hamil­ton, 36, and Goward bought the his­toric tem­per­ance inn that, for 50 years, had been a post of­fice and tea room, when the estate’s own­ers, the Webb fam­ily, an­nounced their plans to sell.

“It was the only prop­erty on the estate that had never changed hands. Res­i­dents feared a prop­erty de­vel­oper would buy the shop, along with the flat up­stairs and ad­join­ing three-bed­room house, and knock it down to build flats,” says Hamil­ton. “I thought ‘I live here, I could cre­ate a lovely com­mu­nity hub’, so we bought it, spent £500,000 ren­o­vat­ing the three prop­er­ties, and I trained as a post­mistress so I would know how it all works.”

A year on, she has 26 staff work­ing in her rus­tic shop and café, in which ev­ery­thing is home-baked (they’re best known for their cakes), and the menu in­cludes ve­gan and gluten­free op­tions.

“The coffee shop sup­ports the post of­fice, and we see two very dif­fer­ent types of cus­tomer. Mums come to the café who never used to when it was a vil­lage shop, and we get lots of peo­ple com­ing from Lon­don and even from abroad.”

Hamil­ton adds that as the land­lady, “if any­thing goes wrong, it’s on my shoul­ders. It takes a year to find your feet with a busi­ness, but if we sell the house and flat, it’s all good.” The two prop­er­ties are on sale for £580,000 and £875,000 re­spec­tively through Cromwells estate agents.

Res­i­dents of Pon­sanooth in Corn­wall know what it’s like to save their vil­lage shop, too – in dra­matic style. Soon af­ter owner Michelle Fur­minger had taken over Pon­sanooth Vil­lage Stores in 2013, flood­wa­ter swept through the town and turned her premises into a scene of dev­as­ta­tion. The en­tire vil­lage pitched in, re­built the shop and manned it for free – and it was named the best vil­lage shop in 2016’s Coun­try­side Al­liance Awards.

An­other for­mer award-win­ner, Lud­well Stores in tiny Lud­well, near Dorset’s pic­ture-post­card vil­lage of

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