Seventy years ago there were three shops in Spaxton. The bakery on Barford Road closed soon after the war, and Kibby’s, on the corner of Peartwater Road and Bush Road, now Gramarye House, in about 1990. This left Spaxton Post Office and Stores in Four Forks. Under its final owner, Tony Baughan, the shop side gradually declined, and the business was only sustainable because of the guaranteed income from the post office.
The business was put up for sale in 2008. In 2010, having been unable to find a buyer, Tony put up a notice saying that he was going to close the shop, but keep the post office going until he could find a buyer. He invited anyone who was interested in running a community shop alongside him to get in touch. Two local residents did, and he put them in touch with each other. This led to the formation of a “shop committee”, whose first project was a questionnaire delivered to every household in the parish, to assess the level of the community’s wish for a shop, and/or a post office.
Encouraged by the response, they gave detailed consideration to Tony’s suggestion of running a community shop alongside him. It was felt to be unworkable, because his stated wish was to sell up. If he were to find a buyer, the shop committee would have been left with thousands of pounds worth of stock and nowhere from which to sell it. They also considered buying the whole building, but this was ruled out because of the inherent dangers of the site. (No off-road parking, and an entrance that went straight onto the road with no pavement.)
The solution was a new build on a corner of the playing field adjacent to the village hall. The total cost of the project, including stocking, was £150,000. The first £30,000 was raised from the village, by the sale of community shares. The shop has 300 shareholders, each investing £5 or more. The average holding is £100. 90% of shareholders live in the village, and there are shareholders in Holland, USA, Canada and New Zealand. There was a very large donation from an individual who has no connection with the village and has insisted on remaining anonymous until she dies. She is affectionately referred to as Gladys. The rest came as grants – from the parish council, Spaxton Community News, Sedgemoor District Council, The Plunkett Foundation, the Magnox Socio-Economic Scheme and the Fairfield Charitable Trust. The Plunkett Foundation was a constant source of support and inspiration. They have supported the launch of over 300 community shops, including 23 in Somerset.
The first sod was dug at the 2014 summer flower show, and the shop was built by Harris Bros and Collard that autumn. The winter of 2014/2015 was an intense period of decorating and fitting out the new shop, finding suppliers, recruiting and training volunteers, and finally stocking the shelves in readiness for opening on January 31st 2015; four and a half years after the project was conceived. For the first 8 months, the shop relied wholly on volunteers. A part-time paid manager, Karen Dennett, was appointed in October 2015.
The opening of the new shop enabled Tony to obtain planning permission for change of use of the old shop building, and he found a buyer, closed the old post office and moved away. The red oval Post Office sign, and a post box, are still there on the front of the building. After a gap of four months, and after prolonged and tortuous negotiations with Post Office Limited, a post office opened in the new shop, a year after the shop opened.
By Richard Lee