Saturday, 28 May 2011

No Village Shop?

We were recently visiting family in Devon and I was impressed to find a very well stocked and managed community shop in the tiny village where we stayed. As well as offering Post Office services, there were a couple of tables where you could sit to have a cup of coffee and read the newspaper or to hold a meeting - business or pleasure. The lady in charge told us that this 'cafe' style service was proving a popular addition and people could make their own drinks if staff were busy. It set me thinking how, for a fairly small sum of money and with a bit of imagination, many churches could offer the facilities for a community shop. This would certainly bring the church (people and building) more into the centre of community life and enable the church to provide a hospitable forum for the many connections and partnerships that are at the heart of any local community. In her introduction to the Big Society last night at Bedale, Alice Ullathorne (our Buildings Officer) introduced us to some valuable resources for thinking about this kind of project. She also told us the story of churches where rural shops had been set up in the Chelmsford and St Albans areas. The cost in one case was surprisingly low (£10,000); the 'cost' was, in fact, more accurately measured out in the time and effort to bring people together to share the vision and then set up and run the enterprise. Profits go to local charities.  

Useful resources

Crossing the Threshold; A Community Development Approach to the Use of Church Buildings by Simon Whaley

Guidelines and Best Practice for the Setting Up of Community Shops in Churches and Chapels  

Guidelines and Best Practice for the Provision of a Hosted Post Office in Churches and Chapels

Many thanks to Alice for the resources and helpful insights she shared with those who attended the seminar on the Big Society, last night. We need more discussion of the changes in thinking that these developments are going to necessitate. The current changes in political outlook about the provision of many services are quite radical and are going to create new ways for churches to relate to their communities. They may bring about a return to some of the needs and opportunities the churches took a lead in responding to before the creation of the Welfare State (especially in social care).  We need to keep a close eye on developmets and on what is being asked and offered in the way of grants and commissions. 

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