People power puts Midgley on the map

It's late morning and Patricia Wragg has just taken her place behind the till at the village shop in Midgley. She would be finishing after lunch, a stint for which she would be paid precisely nothing.

Patricia, a retiree, is one of 40 volunteers who man the counter, selling a general range of grocery goods to the residents and helping boost the incomes of the many local farmers and producers who supply the shop.

But this isn't just any shop. This is a shop run by the Midgley method. That means a free delivery service in the village for the housebound. Anyone with special dietary requirements can also order them to be delivered as well. If you don't have a car but have an appointment somewhere, ring the shop – it's open till 7pm weekdays except Tuesdays and till lunchtimes at weekends – and they'll find someone to take you.

Patricia Wragg moved to Midgley six years ago, just as this exercise in self-help and local enterprise got going. Part of a farm building in the middle of the village was converted to accommodate a shop, post office and community room, a step which challenged the usual assumptions about the irreversible decline of rural communities. Beside where customers enter is a staircase leading to a community room fitted-out to host the playgroup and many other activities. The room has a club licence, so it can be a convivial spot for the grown-ups when the toys are put away.

The determination by the locals to take matters into their own hands like this attracted attention far and wide, and doing things by the Midgley method seemed a route other communities might follow.

But then the village outlook took a couple of turns for the worse. Midgley's post office was shut and the owner of the shop decided he wanted to end the leasing arrangement and convert the place into a dwelling.

These setbacks galvanised the Midgley community association who for the past 12 months have searched for a solution. Building a new shop with accommodation for a community room as well was considered and ruled out. So the association looked at the Co-op shop in the middle of the village, which fortunately came up for sale shortly after. But how could they afford it?

At the heart of the plan they conceived was the assumption that the community would pull together and back it. And they were right. Their novel idea is to offer every local resident shares in the property. They need 170,000 to purchase the freehold and even before the offer has been launched, pledges have been made of 31,000. With the 40,000 cash the forum has in the bank, plus two grants already obtained, it looks as if this is certainly going to happen.

It will mean some happy faces at the Midgley village fete next Saturday where the proceeds raised will also go towards the total target of 220,000.

Midgley, in the upper Calder valley, is a scattered, two-tier village. A right turn off the Burnley Road just before Mytholmroyd leads steeply to the primary school and the first collection of houses at about 700 feet. The road clings grimly to the side of the valley as it rises swiftly a further 300 feet to the main part of the village.

In pre-war days, life for the majority of people in this part of the world was fairly hard, with agriculture, mill-work and quarrying the main source of jobs. Today, glorious displays of flowers soften the stark outlines of the old stone-built houses. Once they were black and scowling, now they are buffed and bijou. Their owners, who often commute to well-paid jobs in either Manchester or Leeds, have helped to elevate the valley's natural advantages to the level of picturesque visitor attraction.

Having a sizeable number of retirees among the 800-strong village population is important. They frequently have the key qualities required to make things happen in a community – time and experience. Reg Slater needed both in abundance to find his way through the labyrinthine ways of grant application forms.

A retired accountant, Reg has lived in Midgley for 10 years and is now one of the main movers and shakers in the community association.

"There are no facilities in the village apart from what we provide ourselves," says Reg. "The urgency to the plan is the fact that the shop's landlord lives next door to it and wants to turn it into a dwelling.

"We have been renting for six years for 3,000 a year and we could put that money towards something else of benefit for the village. But if we don't have a building to provide an anchor it's hopeless – the association will close down and all its good work will cease."

Their shop is run by Midgley Matters Ltd, comprising a management group of six-10 residents. "It makes a modest profit after Corporation Tax," says Reg. "We have applied for charitable status, but you still have to pay the tax if you are trading. Village events also raise income for the association.

"All the volunteers only do a few hours each week. They like coming in and serving, particularly if they are living alone. But losing the post office last year was a blow. A post office adds another dimension to a village.

"The last use of the empty shop in the village was as a bookbinders.

"But it was the a Co-op for 100 years from the 1860s to the 1960s. It has a flat attached on the first floor where a rental income would prove useful. The share certificates we are issuing will be repayable after five years. No interest will paid on the shares in the first five years, so in effect it's an interest-free loan. We are aiming for 50,000 from it."

The launch of the official offer document is imminent. A London firm of solicitors has vetted it, free of charge.

Chris Foster, one of the newer residents, says: "The shop is such a draw. I came here 18 months ago and walked down to get a newspaper. It generates a network of contacts.

"If you don't have that, you never meet the neighbours. The shop is vital as a village hub and community activities are the icing on the top."

Chris, who works as an IT project manager in Halifax, has two children aged three and one. "We came here because the school has a good reputation and the sense of community is quite strong.

"My wife Sophie helps with the playgroup. We aren't all incomers. There are a lot of people who've lived here all their lives."

Rachel Deavin, who runs the playgroup every Friday, says: "We have seven-to-10 mums. I think the new shop idea will be a very good thing if we can pull it off."

But already Midgley's ambitions are growing beyond that.

"We want to provide a cafe as well for villagers to use to meet and chat while shopping, and also to provide a focus for visitors in the summer," says Reg Slater.

Is there something about this location which has prompted the growth of the Midgley method? Ted Hughes, the former poet laureate was born in these parts and in later years wrote movingly about his childhood stamping ground.

"I'm sure the hillside gives energy to the place," says Reg. "It's part of the appeal of living round here."

Midgley village fete: June 13, Recreation ground on Green Lane 2pm to 9.30pm, entry free.