Shropshire village shop marks 10th birthday but 'lifeline' service continues
Set up following the 2008 recession to support a small village between Newport and Market Drayton, the Cheswardine Community Shop marked its 10th anniversary under lockdown, when the lifeline it provides to villagers is more clear than ever before.
The shop is experiencing its busiest period ever, with a small army of 40 volunteers helping to keep it stocked, and more people than ever relying on it for supplies.
The Cheswardine Community Shop was set up as a not-for-profit operation by a committee of volunteers in 2010 to keep the villagers stocked up, as well as to fill the social gap left by the closure of supermarkets and post offices.
It sells fresh fruit and vegetables, tinned food, bread, newspapers and essentials of all sorts.
The shop normally occupies a tiny premises about 10 metres by 10 metres, but as that proved infeasible in an age of social distancing, the volunteers temporarily moved their stock into the village's parish hall.
A new Perspex screen has been installed to keep customers and volunteers safe, the committee has invested in contactless payment technology and there is even the facility for 'money laundering' – scrubbing cash to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading.
A £500 grant from Shropshire Council has also paid for a new freezer.
Wendy Taylor, the chair of the shop management committee has been part of the volunteer group since the beginning, and took over the leadership after original chair Amanda Parish took a step back.
"We had the option to close and offer a delivery service, but we felt that with the lockdown, the elderly people in the village – for some of them we are the only daily contact they have," she said.
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"If we close, they lose that. We regularly hear that we are a 'lifeline'. We have a 'Ches Cares' team that delivers to vulnerable residents."
Mrs Taylor added: "We have dramatically expanded our services to support our community during this crisis and we are now operating, on a temporary basis, from the parish hall – so from 10 to 150 square meters!
"We quarantine stock for 72 hours before we put it out.
"We know we are not going to be like this forever, but we are working to do what we can."
Customers queue outside the shop just as they do at large supermarkets.
The shop did find a way to acknowledge its birthday even though the planned celebrations had to be put on hold.
A memory board, flowers and cake were on display for those queueing to get into the shop but the work does not stop – the volunteers recognise the importance of what they do, said Mrs Taylor.
"A lot of our volunteers are the original volunteers," she said.
"We will carry on doing it as long as we are needed.
"We have always been a small, close community and we thought that with this crisis, there has never been a better time for us to be here."