Village shops are closing across Wales, denying many people living in rural areas access to a daily newspaper.
Tony Graf realised this when he heard that his local shop, deep in the heart of Carmarthenshire, was set to close for good after a 156-year trading life:
“Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of either giving up my daily copy of The Guardian or undertaking a 14-mile round journey per day to buy a copy in town.”
And he was not the only newspaper buyer in the villages of Cwrt Henri and Dryslwyn who faced the same issue. But now, the once-doomed shop of 2009 is selling some 60 newspapers a day and offers a full range of magazines. This turnaround came about thanks to a volunteer effort which has created a £125,000-a-year business (based on a 40-hour trading week). Tony Graf was among the first to spot the potential for a community-based business, as he explains:
“The Dryslwyn shop closure was caused by the Post Office withdrawing the postmistress’s salary, and without that there was no future for the shop. My wife and I launched a campaign to keep the post office going, but to no avail”.
But, a chance comment by the owner of the shop set another campaign in train. Tony Graf continues:
“All he said was something about volunteers running the business. I was sceptical at first, but after two or three more drinks it all made sense.”
This proved all the more so when, after Tony Graf and a friend had leafleted 350 households, people started coming forward with physical and financial offers to get the community business off the ground. The big breakthrough came when the Post Office came back on board, as Tony Graf recalls:
“Having secured the original shop premises, we thought – almost tongue in cheek – that we’d have another tilt at the Post Office and, to our surprise, they said ‘yes’!”
Crucial to this breakthrough was an agreement that the new Dryslwyn Post Office outlet would operate as an ‘extension’ to the main post office in Llandeilo.
“I don’t think we fully realised what we were taking on,” Tony Graf commented: “There was an awful lot to learn, but it worked.”
Today, 12 of the shop’s 40 volunteers are responsible all the post office operations, which have become even more important to the community since the closure of two of the ‘Big Five’ bank branches in Llandeilo. Management committee member, Jeremy Fonge explains:
“It’s ironic that Tony Graf once faced a 14-mile round trip to Llandeilo to buy a newspaper, now people who visited Llandeilo for their banking needs are relying on Dryslwyn post office instead. We are increasingly handing a lot of personal and business cash and cheques.”
With ten years of success under their belts, the shop volunteers are now committed to opening a café in a building adjoining the shop and PO.
“It is an exciting project,” Mr Fonge commented. “The shop itself has proved a valuable social resource for all sorts of reasons. The café should prove even more valuable, especially in a rural area where a lot of elderly people, in particular, can feel very isolated and lonely.”
If your community are looking to save or establish a community business, please get in touch with Plunkett Foundation. You can find full contact details at the Contact Us page here.