Gawsworth Community Hub & Shop

owned and run by volunteers for the benefit of the community

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Our Community Shop in Gawsworth

Let’s start at the beginning.   In the 1970’s there were 4 shops in the block.  After some time two of them closed and as there were no takers for them the owners sought permission to convert them into flats. This left a Post Office and a General Store.  Owners came and went until one owner saw an opportunity to merge the two remaining shops into one by taking the dividing wall down. This situation worked well until Post Office Ltd decided that Gawsworth no longer merited a Post Office and withdrew the service along with the salary it provided. It soon became evident that the double unit was no longer viable and so the wall went back up and one half converted into a flat. A year later the remaining shop also proved not to be viable and destined to be converted like the other three had been.

This sounded alarm bells with a number of residents who held a public meeting where it was evident that there was a strong desire to save the remaining shop. Funds had to be raised quickly. About half was raised by a share issue in the name of Gawsworth Community Shop Limited. The rest was made up of a grant, a loan and fundraising events including a charity auction. Fortunately we were able to raise sufficient funds just in time to save the last shop from being converted into a flat. However it desperately needed refurbishing. Rather than close it for business and lose customers, we hired a small converted shipping container and fitted it out as a small shop to keep residents supplied with essential items. Once the shop had been gutted, redecorated and refitted with new shelving, fridges and the village’s first deli counter, we had a Grand Opening on 10th March 2011.

Our community run shop has proved to be a popular asset within the village. It has to be run on a commercial basis to survive; initially this involved a paid manager and a team of volunteers.  However when it became evident the workload was too much for one manager, the paid manager role was replaced by a volunteer director and two paid supervisors job-sharing the task of keeping the shop running smoothly day-to-day. This has proved to be a workable and sustainable combination.

As a result the shop’s accumulated profits have been steadily growing. Under its constitution these can only be used for the benefit of the community. However it has proved difficult to identify how we could provide something that the whole community could benefit from.  That was until the flat next to the shop, the one that had been the Post Office, came on the market and provided a truly unique opportunity to create a Community Hub in the centre of the village for everyone’s benefit.

Just one problem: the shop’s reserves fell short of the amount required to buy the flat. Solution: use the share scheme to bridge the gap.  Fortunately, thanks to the generosity of a number of existing shareholders we were able to raise sufficient funds to open negotiations and agree a price. Completing the purchase took a frustrating 8 months due to factors not normally encountered in a property purchase, namely the change of use to shop/cafe/hub and the need to renegotiate the leases.

We couldn’t start right away on integrating the two properties as we had to produce and submit the plans to gain approval for the doorway and also raise the funds. The John Upton Charity kindly funded the integration work and a local builder made the doorway through to the adjacent flat but this involved the loss of wall space for two essential chillers. To make space for them elsewhere we had to embark on a major refit of the entire retail area so decided to refurbish the whole shop at the same time. To enable us to keep the shop open during this work we moved the grocery and ice cream freezers along with the greeting card display into the adjacent flat so customers could still access them.  This freed up one wall which was then renovated and refitted. When complete the fittings on another wall were moved to their new home thus freeing up another wall which could be renovated and refitted. This process continued until the whole shop had been refurbished and all equipment was in its new position.  This took 4 months to complete because most of it could only be done at weekends when the shop was closed.

Converting the flat into a hub involved redecorating and fitting out the front room as a comfortable seating area with appropriate display shelving and converting the bedroom into an office with storage space. This left the conversion of the existing toilet and shower room into an accessible toilet and upgrading the kitchen to commercial standard, both of which are planned for this year. The cost of all this was more than the shop could afford to fund so a grant was sought to cover the cost and to employ a hub manager to realize its full potential since we didn’t have the effort available to do it ourselves. After a lot of hard work we were fortunate to be awarded a grant from the National Lottery Reaching Communities Fund. This grant also includes the cost of operating the hub for 18 months.

The redecoration and fitting out of the seating area was helped by a donation from the Macclesfield and District Lions Club and National Lottery funding, the office was funded by the shop. We then started to use both for a range of different activities, including PCSO surgeries, information displays for our Neighbourhood Plan and Diabetes UK, various committee meetings and interviews for our hub manager.

The Covid-19 outbreak could not have come at a worse time. The week after our hub manager joined the team we had to suspend the use of the hub as a seating and event area because of the pandemic. However it didn’t stop its use for displaying information, gifts and hand-made cards from local businesses. The outbreak also meant two-thirds of our volunteers had to isolate themselves for the duration which meant opening hours had to be substantially reduced to what our remaining volunteers and staff could sustain.

Fortunately, with households staying and working at home, sales soared as the shop proved a very popular alternative to supermarkets, particularly its bread, eggs, frozen meals, plants and twice weekly deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Events being planned for when restrictions are lifted are short courses on various topics, (e.g. first aid), practical demonstrations, (e.g. CPR), more exhibitions, displays of school artwork and small group activities for local residents.

Updated: 3/5/2020

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