Professors pop to Ryburgh Village Shop...from Japan for research mission

The 5,837 mile journey from Tokyo, Japan to Ryburgh, England

The 5,837 mile journey from Tokyo, Japan to Ryburgh, England - Credit: Archant

A village shop sees all kinds of visitors - but when two Japanese professors walked in and told one store owner they were on a research mission, he was left stunned.

Andrew Purdy at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt

Andrew Purdy at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The professors told Ryburgh Village Shop owner Andrew Purdy they wanted to find out more about how his business had applied the UK's community interest company (CIC) business structure.

Store manager Moira Meirhofer at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt

Store manager Moira Meirhofer at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

The shop was one of the first CICs, which are designed for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets to invest back in the community.

Store manager Moira Meirhofer at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt

Store manager Moira Meirhofer at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Mr Purdy was so successful that a government regulator chose to use the Ryburgh shop as a case study on its website - and this is how it was discovered in Japan.

Andrew Purdy at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt

Andrew Purdy at Great Ryburgh Village Shop and Post Office. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: Ian Burt

Mr Purdy said: 'They came in and started to take photographs, which was a bit odd. My wife happened to be doing her volunteer slot that afternoon and asked them if she could help them.


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'She was slightly floored by their first question: 'Why did you choose a community interest company as your legal structure?' So I was summoned to answer the question.'

Professors Shimizu Hiroyuki - from the Chiba University's department of sociology - and Tomohito Nakajima, from Sanno University School of Management, sat down with Mr Purdy for almost 30 minutes to discuss the success of his business.

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'Like most Japanese people, they were ingratiatingly polite and almost embarrassed about asking questions,' he continued.

'I was just telling them what we had done and they were scribbling it all down as fast as they could.

'I hope they got what they needed out of it. We have had interest from Holland before but this is the first time we have had a visit from as far afield as Japan.'

When contacted by this newspaper, Prof Nakajima said Japan is researching local infrastructures in areas facing population decline because of rapid ageing and low birth rate.

He said: 'Our visit to Ryburgh is really nice as now we have knowledge about why, how and who started and supported the village shop and what the contribution and impact of the shop has been on the local community.'

What can the UK learn from Japan?

With the professors being sent from Japan to learn from the UK, we looked at some the guiding principles behind Japan's corporate culture.

• Collaboration is the key to success, according to the Japanese - so workers use the term 'Hourensou' to refer to encouraging frequent discussion and contact among employees.

• Problem solving is another priority and workers, including managers, are told to 'Genchi Genbutsu' - which is to 'get your hands dirty' and identify or solve immediate problems.

• Merging their cultural desire for harmony among people with the workplace, Japan encourages an environment of support and agreement with an employees idea after a manager has accepted the recommendation through 'Ringiseido'.

• Finally, the 5S method is five words, 'Seiri', 'Seiton', 'Seiso', 'Seiketsu', and 'Shitsuke'. Each refers to an aspect of how to keep a clean and efficient workspace,

Things to do in Ryburgh

With a population of around 694 compared with 13,617,445 in Tokyo, the Japanese professors probably felt pretty far from home in Ryburgh.

However, their trip brought them to a humble village that was crowned best village community in Norfolk with a population of fewer than 1,000 by EDP in 2012.

Between their business research, the professors would have been able to take full advantage of the activities in Ryburgh, including visiting the Maltings which has been producing malt for the past two centuries and has become the key ingredient for many craft beers.

They could also visit the church of Great Ryburgh, home to one of 124 existing round-tower churches in Norfolk, complete with a set of bells dating back to 1890.

Finally, they could relax by the River Wensum which has been designated a site of special scientific interest and special area of conservation.

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