Across the country community businesses have been proving their ability to innovate and be adaptable during the Covid-19 lockdown. Here is the story of a community shop in East Yorkshire which helped the most vulnerable people keep connected and supplied when they needed it the most.

As the national lockdown closed the doors of businesses across the country, one newly opened rural community shop in East Yorkshire showed innovation and adaptability to remain open and provide community spirit and vital supplies to those who needed them more than ever.

After an energetic local campaign and great volunteering effort by the residents of Bishop Wilton, the eagerly anticipated community shop opened its doors at the end of January. Finally, and against all the odds, the community had a shop again and it was better than ever. But one of their biggest challenges was yet to come – coronavirus.

Those involved with the shop had always wanted it to be a “hub” for the community, and so it would prove as the national lockdown was introduced and local people turned to the new community shop more than ever.

Louise Butcher, secretary of Bishop Wilton Community Shop’s Committee, explained: “One major change has been the layout of the shop – we had to shut the café and that extra space enabled us to increase our other stock. Another important change was adapting the opening hours to enable us to clean the premises extra well, to cope with fewer volunteers and to have time and space to organise deliveries. It has been a baptism of fire and lots of very hard work particularly because we are such a new shop. Everyone has stepped up and we have learnt a great deal very quickly.”

The shop wasn’t alone – a dedicated programme of support was launched by the Plunkett Foundation to help rural community businesses across the UK as they battled the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus lockdown.

Thanks to funding from The Co-op, the shop was also given guidance on setting up a system in which volunteers work in the shop alongside a part-time manager and act as co-ordinators and communicators.

Local supply network

An inability to get the supplies they normally stock from their local cash and carry was another challenge that hit the shop. But the local supply network has kept shelves stocked.

“Luckily the owner of the shop building is a flour miller – so we’ve been able to keep everyone well supplied,” added Louise. “An ice-cream supplier had a few problems with refrigeration (now sorted) and one of the local bakeries didn’t have enough employees to deal with the increased sales but is now back and sorted. All the other local suppliers have been brilliant keeping us stocked up with local produce and sales have gone up and up!”

Supporting those who most needed them was key to the shop’s strategy for Covid-19, with home deliveries to anyone vulnerable or self-isolating quickly introduced and accounts set up for those who may be vulnerable or unable to visit the shop in person. A former GP helped the shop interpret government guidelines and adapt accordingly so that those who could still visit were still able to do so safely.

And soon more innovations were introduced to keep the community connected, with Friday fish and chip deliveries, cooked at the local pub and with help from the local church and WI to identify vulnerable people in the community who would benefit from the new service. A team of shop volunteers began delivering 30-40 orders a week.

Customers in Bishop Wilton Community Shop’s cafe, pictured before the Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing rules. 

The Goliath effort to keep serving the community has ensured Bishop Wilton Community Shop has been a linchpin for the local area throughout the lockdown, and despite the early and dramatic test for the shop – it has risen to the challenge and brought surprising benefits.

Louise said: “We know we probably won’t maintain this higher level of sales forever, but, financially, it’s been a very good start for a new shop. We’ve got enough money in the bank now to be able to install desperately needed air conditioning and we’ll be able to give back to the local community too.”

For more information on Plunkett’s Covid-19 Support contact us directly via  / 01993 810 730.

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