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Manager Ann Secombe (left) serving customers
Sovereignty advocates building a sustainable rural economy upon the principles of localisation and food sovereignty. We're always on the look-out for positive examples of the principles in action. This story from The Guardian illustrates how one community saved its village shop by taking it over and running it themselves. Localisation, food sovereignty, community ownership and popular democracy in action! If you have any other inspiring examples which fit our campaigning themes, then please contact us.

John Vidal, The Guardian 10 June 2002, p.24
When sleepy Maiden Bradley nearly lost its store, residents created a plan to save it that could be a model for other rural communities.

Maiden Bradley is not a place associated with social revolutions. Much of the Wiltshire village is still owned by the Duke of Somerset, the last meeting of the parish council attracted nobody, the bunting flew loyally for the jubilee, and magazines like Red Pepper, New Statesman and the Ecologist are rare as crocodiles.

But the social slumber in the former farming community was deeply disturbed last year when the village shop started running down its stock and threatening permanent closure. Faced with the demise of the only store for miles around, more than a third of Maiden Bradley's 300 residents turned up to a crisis meeting, and in a burst of communal enterprise, decided to take it over and run it themselves.

What followed could grace an Archers' script. Within months, the village had raised £21,000 from the government's countryside agency, and 150 of its 240 adults had chipped in with sums ranging from £5 to £500 to buy shares in the venture. Today the shop is leased by the village with any proceeds going back into the community.

Maiden Bradley is startled by its own initiative and coming to terms with being a landlord. "It all began with a row," said Carmen Jiminez, who was once engaged to old rocker Georgie Fame but who came to the area as a 1960s refugee from swinging London.

"When I heard the shop was going to close I told Carol Munt, the chairman of the parish council, that it was their responsibility, and she said it wasn't. I said there was a wider issue at stake and there was a mega-row." In the end, both agreed to do something.

So did others. Vera does the book-keeping, Betty and Edna, Dave, Malcolm, Kevin, and Brenda, along with other volunteers and paid tradesmen, stripped, cleaned, repaired, repainted and refurbished the place. Admiral Wid Graham helped sand the shopfront, and local MP Dr Andrew Murrison was seen painting the ceiling.

When it opened earlier this year, there were some gasps. Instead of a few tins of beans, sliced bread and wilting veg, it boasted wines, choice teas, home-made bread and shelves of local produce, all no more expensive than that sold in the nearest urban supermarkets. It also attracted more than just local residents. Within days of opening there was a burglary and shortly after it was ram-raided. It now boasts two big black bollards outside its steel-reinforced front door.

The shop is open 11 hours a day and turnsover £2,600 a week, well over the break-even point and what was expected in the business plan. The home-made bread is sold out every day and it has sold more than 600 bottles of wine in three months.

"If anyone wants anything in particular we will try to get it and Ann Secombe, a former farmer who is the shop manager.

Meanwhile, the children pop in for ice cream and sweets and the 80-year-old duchess comes down every few days. "It's saved my life," she has told the village.

"The majority of people use the shop now," said Ms Secornbe. "The village is 100% behind it. People come for a chat. It's a point of contact for a lot of people. It has a definite social purpose, too."

Maiden Bradley, with 20% of its inhabitants old or without a car, is similar to thousands of villages across Britain that have lost, or are in danger of losing, their social heart.

It still has a village hall and a pub, but it has no school, doctor's surgery, dentist, creche or police station and its public transport links are meagre. A recent rural development commission survey of 9,000 English parishes found 42% had no shop of any kind, 43% had no post office, almost half had no school and three quarters no daily bus service.

Maiden Bradley shop

"If this shop had closed, it would probably have never reopened and would have been one more statistic in the breakdown of rural communities," said Adam Hunt, a villager who works for North Dorset district council.

"Its closure would have made life for many people here very difficult. This is a service to the community as much as a shop. It helps keep the village together. The model could be used in many other places."

  For advice on how to save your village shop you can contact the Countryside Agency Vital Villages scheme on 0870 333 0170, which can provide grants in certain circumstances.  

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