A village of 50 shopkeepers: Historic community store saved by amazing band of volunteers

Rebecca Lewis
Yahoo! News
The village shop in Itteringham, Norfolk, survives thanks to half the villagers volunteering their time (SWNS)

One of Britain's oldest shops has defied the odds and survived in the face of rock bottom prices offered by supermarkets thanks to half of an entire village working there for free.

The historic shop has been at the same premises in Itteringham, Norfolk, for 370 years, but had begun to struggle against the big supermarket chains in nearby towns.

But the close-knit village has rallied together to keep the shop alive, with 50 of its 120 residents working in the store voluntarily to help stack shelves, cook, clean and deliver orders.

The volunteer workers save around £350-a-week on wages, which represents 20% of the shop's £2,000-a-week turnover, allowing the store to break even.

Without the support of the local community the shop would almost certainly be forced to close.

Shop manager Mike Hemsley, 55, said: "It starts with people just popping into the shop and talking to us then they offer to lend a hand.

"Next thing they are our new delivery driver. It's amazing really. It is such a closely knit village and we are all friends.

"One person will be stocking the shelves, another will be behind the till, then the next day they will be back at work and popping in as customers.

"When all the children turn 18 they come and help in the shop too.

"Because most of the people here are volunteers I think they have an enthusiasm that salaried workers don’t have.

The first recorded owner of the shop was a Richard Bell who sold groceries from the property in the 17th century.

But it is the Fairhead family who are the most celebrated owners of the store.

They took ownership of the shop in 1908 and remained on the lease for an incredible 86 years until Brian Fairhead was diagnosed with cancer in 1994.

The shop was on the brink of closure before villagers raised nearly £5,000 to keep its doors open.

They formed the Itteringham Community Shop association in November 1994 just a few weeks after Brian’s death.

The shop has been community run for 18 years.

It is one of the oldest shops in the UK continuously run from the same location.

The villagers are so proud of the traditional store they have now created a book, called 'The Village Shop,' charting its 370-year history.

Author Maggie Vaughan-Lewis, who lives near the village, collected photographs and memories from the Itteringham villagers and cuttings from the local newspaper.

She said: "The shop has existed way back into the 17th century and there has always been great support from our community.

"Everyone here feels involved. We have not had a lot of development and we continue to do well against all the odds."

According to the Plunkett foundation Itteringham's village shop is one of 283 community shops across Britain.

The numbers are rising as more people begin to offer their support for local projects.

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