Norfolk communities promised cash to run own shop

A bold bid to turn the tide of village shop closures has begun with the promise of thousands of pounds to Norfolk communities that want to set up and run their own stores.

Victory Housing Trust has joined forces with the Plunkett Foundation to offer �180,000 to people in six places to set up community shops.

The facilities are run by volunteers, who come together to either keep a shop open or create a new one in places that are struggling for services.

The north Norfolk scheme is a pilot, and if successful could be the model for a nationwide programme of housing associations providing the impetus to expand the network of community shops.

Victory Housing Trust, which is based at North Walsham, is leading the scheme following its decision last year to invest money in community shops as part of its Victory Charter.

The trust is investing �60,000 and making �40,000 available in loans, while the Plunkett Foundation - a national charity - is putting forward �120,000.

Victory chief executive John Archibald said: 'When the last remaining shop in a community closes, it can be a big blow. People living in that community are deprived of essential services such as a post office, and in many cases do not have access to public transport to access alternatives.

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'Creating a community shop provides a focal point for a community, reinstates those vital services, and creates a sense of ownership amongst residents.'

Three community shops exist in Norfolk, at Itteringham, near Aylsham, Great Ryburgh, near Fakenham, and Mileham, near Dereham.

Itteringham Village Shop, which has been in the village since the late 19th century, was taken over by Itteringham Community Association in 1994.

The shop, which includes a post office that operates two days a week, is funded through sales and community events, and staffed by a team of volunteers.

In 2003 it was faced with closure when it needed a revamp, but was given money from the Countryside Agency's Vital Villages fund, to create a delicatessen and cafe area.

Those behind the Victory and Plunkett Foundation initiative have already identified 20 unnamed communities in the north of the county which meet the criteria for supporting a community shop.

On April 5 at 6pm, the drive to recruit volunteers will gain impetus at a community shops presentation at the trust's headquarters at Tom Moore House on Cromer Road in North Walsham.

Attendees will hear from Andrew Purdy, managing director of Ryburgh Community Enterprise CIC, which runs Ryburgh Community Shop, and from social entrepreneur Robert Ashton, who is managing the project.•

• To attend the presentation or express an interest in the scheme, call Wendi Creelman on 01692 502458.

• EDP Opinion: page 20

• steve.downes@archant.co.uk