When Geoff and Jean Mason announced their retirement from running the village shop and post office after 43 years and no buyer could be found, the outlook was bleak for the community of Church Fenton.
The village had already seen two of its three pubs close in the last decade and its bus services stripped back so that just one bus passes through every three-and-a-half hours.
A crisis meeting was chaired by parish councillors and what has happened since is all down to community spirit.
“We sat down and said what are we going to do?”, recalls villager Jane Hardman-Ferris.
The answer, it emerged, was for the community to try and raise the £350,000 needed to buy the shop.
An agreement was proposed by outgoing owners the Masons to let the shop to the community on a peppercorn rent, thus buying villagers time, and the shop re-opened, staffed entirely by volunteers, in June 2017 after just a four-week closure.
To secure its long-term future however, a business planning team of local volunteers proposed a shares scheme to raise funds and it was then that residents stumbled upon a government package to help communities buy up local assets. A business plan was presented to the parish council which then applied to take a loan out on the committee’s behalf. A mortgage was secured from the Public Work Loans Board, part of the Treasury, and contracts are due to be exchanged imminently, at which point the shop will be owned by the village itself.
Such has been its success that this month the shop won a Countryside Alliance award for best village shop/post office in the North and it is now in contention for the national award.
Mrs Hardman Ferris, 51, moved to the village 15 years ago with her husband Stewart. Both are active members of the shop’s management committee.
“It has involved a lot of hard work and it’s been a bit bumpy but it’s all been worth it.”
The venture has brought the community together in a wonderful way, she explained.
“Over these last 10 months we have got to know more people in the village than we had in the rest of the previous 15 years. I wasn’t born here but we have clubbed together with people who have and it’s made one hell of a community. It’s always been a beautiful place to be but even more so now.”
The shop opens seven days a week. As well as offering items typical of a convenience store, it stocks meat from Starkeys butchers, bread from Crusties bakery, both in nearby Sherburn-in-Elmet, fruit and veg from local wholesaler Martin Hebden and honey from locally-based beekeepers.
Grade I listed St Mary’s, the village church, has provided a place of worship since around 1230.
Located near Tadcaster, Church Fenton has an Ofsted rated ‘Good’ primary school, The Fenton Flyer pub and a train station.
It is also home to Screen Yorkshire’s Church Fenton Yorkshire Studios where studio scenes for the 2016 TV series Victoria were filmed in a converted aircraft hangar.