A young man comes in who can be no more than 19-years-old replete in gamekeeper’s attire looking like a young Seth Armstrong from Emmerdale. Next there’s a well-groomed lady who appears immaculate even though she may well have just finished riding out; then there’s a slightly older chap who has come for his newspaper, followed by a younger man in a boiler suit - his stomach has told him it’s time for a sausage roll.
It seems everyone local to Lythe supports the village shop as I sit demolishing the largest slice of Bakewell tart I’ve ever been served. This is such a contrasting scene to the end of December last year when it seemed this small rural community four miles from Whitby had lost its shop. Ten months on Lythe Village Stores is a hive of activity thanks to the commitment of its residents and it seems it may soon also regain its post office status.
Village amenities have been closing across the country for the past three decades but community-run shops could be the way forward for more than just Lythe. Pen Cruz is chairman of the committee of eight who have re-launched the shop and are ahead of their predicted turnover even though it only opened in June. Pen has worked with similar enterprises in Scotland and Ecuador but that’s not why she lives here now. She was born in the village.
“There’d been a village shop here since the 19th century and possibly even before then. The last owner who had the shop permanently passed away in 2005 and there had been a series of others who had tried to make a go of it. I worked with a community enterprise in Ecuador marketing mango jam and up in central Scotland in Falkirk where the Co-operative had closed and a company was brought together with all profits going back to the community.
“We felt that with a high retired population based in the village and a caravan and camping site that attracts visitors throughout the year then there should be a good base of local customers if we were able to source and stock the right things. I think that sometimes village shops try to compete with supermarket prices by bringing in really cheap brands and that often doesn’t work.”
The focal point is a table and chairs by the front window. It’s transformed what was once more of a mini-mart into a shop-cum-tearoom. The table, volunteered from committee member Brian Farley, and dining chairs from Jan Trott’s garage have turned their shop into something of a community hub.
“We now get walkers, cyclists, people from the caravan site and locals popping in for a cuppa and passing the time of day. There are always people here now as it’s a really friendly and relaxed place,” says Jan, who used to run pub in nearby Ugthorpe with husband Peter. “We decided to put in the table and chairs so that it would be more of a social place and far more spacious.
“We’ve pretty much done everything ourselves or we’ve found someone who we know that can do it.”
But of course running a village shop or any form of enterprise isn’t all down to having good people prepared to give their time, as everyone does here for no individual financial gain themselves, it also requires funding. That’s where Peter Trott’s accountancy skills have been brought to bear.
“We’re very fortunate that the property is owned by Mulgrave Estate who are extremely supportive and that means we have no rent to pay. That means our major outgoings are in stock or whatever is needed in the shop. We decided to sell shares in order to raise the funds for buying what we needed. We’d thought we would need around £10,000 for stock and to pay for insurance.
“After a slow start we ended up with £14,500. That’s a real tribute to the villagers who showed just how much they all want it to be a success. It also allowed us to buy a chiller for our meats and pies.”
The additional funding also came in handy when the store had its first major setback.
“The day before we opened we had just stocked the freezer and it went bang. That was when we had to make the decision to buy a brand new freezer and so it was just as well we had managed to raise the additional monies.’
Pam Thomas lived in Hawsker on the other side of Whitby and was enticed to Lythe by the fantastic views of the North Sea. After having raised a family and having worked with adults with learning and physical disabilities for many years she had decided that now was to be her ‘me time’. She’s now wearing an apron every day, serving customers and another of the committee – and she’s loving every minute of it.
“When the shop was in danger of closing I thought it would be a great shame and the more I attended meetings the more I thought we would all lose out. We have also started building quite a reputation for our bread, cakes, scones, savoury produce and meats. One of our committee members Sally Coward knew of a butcher and a baker who are both in the village of Brotton about eight miles away. Brickyard Bakery is a real artisan bakery run by Ed Trewhitt that he started up this year; and Adamson’s butchers is a family concern.”
Support from within
There is help for communities looking to run a village shop, so long as there is a willing supply of people prepared to volunteer and take the lead.
“We joined the Plunkett Foundation that supports community shops with help and advice,” says Pen Cruz.
“They have been great but it is the work that the committee has put in, including Clare Churley, Judith Benson, Sally Coward and Brian Farley along with us around the table here that has been vital.
“We’ve had some really nice comments too. One chap who has a caravan has told us that coming in here is like going back in time where you can just buy what you need, sit down, have a cup of tea and something to eat and have a chat.”