Putting the village shop at the heart of rural life
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