By STEVE DOWNES
Monday, December 31, 2012
It is the village shop that has defied time, trends and doomsayers to survive and thrive as so many others have fallen by the wayside.
And now its stirring story of local heroism and community commitment has been told in a book.
Itteringham Village Shop is the work of villager, historical researcher and author Maggie Vaughan-Lewis, who has scoured the archives and interviewed residents to detail its 370-year history.
On Saturday, Mrs Vaughan-Lewis was at the shop near Aylsham to sign copies of the book for customers, and was joined by a special visitor - Gil Stead, the daughter of former shopkeeper Brian Fairhead and granddaughter of the previous shopkeeper Albert Fairhead.
Mrs Stead, from Sheringham, spent her first 18 years living above the shop, and was pleased to return to see it still thriving after so many years.
Its current pivotal role at the heart of the community has come against the odds, having in 1994 looked likely to close. But villagers rallied round and saved it - mucking in to volunteer, expand the shop’s range and construct a model for other village shops to follow.
Mrs Vaughan-Lewis said: “My husband William and I wrote a book about Itteringham, and the first part of this book is what we had done for that.
“Time passed and one of the shop committee members, Mike Hemsley, offered to help me put this book together.”
She added: “I love the friendliness of the shop. It really is the centre of the village. It’s wonderful to think that places like this can keep going.”
Mrs Stead said: “It always was. It has always been Big Society - before people were told to do it. My father used to deliver messages to people who did not have a phone.
“At Christmas has would decorate the ceiling and serve mulled wine and warm mince pies. It’s wonderful to see that people have worked so hard to keep it going. And it’s evolving.”
She added with a smile that her father “offered very generous credit to customers”, and the amount of time it took for some people to pay “might have been the reason why he never retired”.
Mrs Vaughan-Lewis said the example for the current business had been set by Brian Fairhead, whose “view was to have everything that somebody would need”.
She also paid tribute to the Eastern Daily Press, saying: “The EDP has been so supportive to the shop. There’s been wonderful coverage which has really helped. Publicity is our lifeblood.”
The shop and post office was threatened with closure in 1994, when long-serving shopkeeper and postmistress Brian and Dorothy Fairhead became ill.
Villagers helped Mr Fairhead in the shop, learnt the ropes, then took the plunge to set up a community organisation.
People bought £10 shares at the beginning, and were helped by a grant from the Countryside Agency as the community rallied round.
Eighteen years on and the shop, which also has a cafe, sells a range of locally-produced foods, drinks, plants and other products.
The book reveals that grocery goods were for sale at the same sight from at least October 1637, with a shop continuously present there until today.
● The book is now available to purchase from the shop or via the shop’s website www.ourvillagestore.co.uk and is priced at £8.