The opening of a Northamptonshire community shop last Friday (July 22), which was needed after village residents were left “isolated” during the Covid-19 pandemic, was “really successful”.
Skittles Community Shop, based in Walgrave, was opened by Chris Heaton-Harris MP after seven weeks of hard work by the community to renovate the building.
The project was co-directed by Parish Councillors Narinder Hammond and Neil Gibbs after an “overwhelming demand” from residents.
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Cllr Hammond said: “I’m so proud, and the outcome of everyone’s hard work has blown my mind.
“I’m meeting people I’ve never met before and I just can’t tell you how proud I am.”
The concept was to “bring people together” and create a “community hub”, which they already achieved by gathering a “brilliant turnout” of around 60 people for the opening.
Despite it starting to rain as soon as Mr Heaton-Harris began to speak, he said many community shops are closing down at the moment, and the village must have a “strong community feel” to have achieved this - which touched Cllr Hammond.
Ahead of cutting the ribbon, Mr Heaton-Harris had a sneak peek inside the store and saw the array of sweets on offer, which he said the children of the village would love during the summer holidays.
He then invited the children in attendance to cut the ribbon with him.
“People have recognised the value of what was missing now they have seen what a fantastic addition it is to the village,” said Cllr Hammond.
Some residents assumed only the essentials would be on offer, which saw the fresh bread sell out and “queues out the door”.
Based in the outbuilding of a Walgrave pub in Zion Hill, which was agreed after it was taken over by new landlords, the convenience store will donate any excess funds to community projects as it was set up as a ‘community interest company’.
Funding from the Walgrave Parish Council and West Northamptonshire Council set the team up, but the money was not enough to cover rent and stock for as long as they needed.
However, the Walgrave community were generous with their time and resources, which enabled the shop to open earlier than anticipated.
Now it is open, Cllr Hammond hopes to install seating outside to encourage residents to use it as a base to socialise.
One person who will be spending a lot of time at Skittles Community Shop is Iryna - a Ukrainian refugee who moved to the UK just over two months ago, who is the new manager.
Cllr Hammond said: “Iryna is flying.
“She is making such an effort to support people and chat to them, and she loves the job.
“She’s hit the ground running and is a phenomenal addition.”
Many residents have offered to volunteer since the shop opened, which will help keep it going, and the team is always on the lookout for new volunteering recruits.
The shop is open from 8am until 7pm on weekdays and 8am until 2pm on weekends.