Covid Stories – Slaley Community Shop

We’ve been incredibly impressed with the way so many Co-ops and Community businesses have managed through the Covid-19 situation and lockdown. The commitment to serving their communities and the resilience and ingenuity they have shown has been amazing!

We’ve spoken to a number of our clients about how they have managed  – here we share the story of Slaley Community Shop, after speaking to Norman Watson

What was your immediate challenge?

We were really worried about how we would continue trading. The shops runs entirely on volunteers – could they still come? Normally we were open until 5pm, but we reduced the hours to close at 12 and we’ve had people volunteer we’d never heard of before! Some existing volunteers who felt they should not interact with the customers have continued to provide vital services with administration and keeping the shop as covid-secure as possible.

What did you do, and what are you doing now?

We kept trading. The shop has a really busy paper delivery service and most of what we sell is milk and bread, the basics. Our sales actually went up by 14% – and stayed up after the end of the first lockdown. People didn’t want to go into Hexham [the nearest town] they wanted to shop locally, and we were able to help them. We sure we had a range of quality products from local producers – meat, eggs, honey and the like – thereby supporting them during the pandemic, too. These have proved very popular. We already had a prescription delivery service which continues to be very well-used. It reduces visits to the surgery, thus helping our local health professionals.

In the shop itself, we introduced extra cleaning and the cleaning regime is meticulous. An hour is set aside before opening for cleaning and setting up the shop. Another hour is dedicated to cleaning, cashing up and closing. Customers are required to wear a mask and socially distance by waiting outside until the previous customer vacates the shop. Sanitiser is available and a perspex screen separates the volunteers and customers, who are encouraged to pay by credit/debit card. All frequently touched surfaces are wiped down regularly during opening hours. Stock checking and restocking take place out of hours and the volunteers don’t mix unless from the same household.

We’ve been able to run some great Zoom wine-tastings and have a Christmas wine box offer which has helped to promote the excellent range of wine in the shop. This is chosen and managed by the premier wine professional in the North-East, who just happens to be the Vicar of Slaley!

The Parish Council, the shop and the church co-operated to set up the Pyramid of Care. Every resident in the civil parish received a card, assuring them of any support with shopping etc and a telephone contact for their area representative who they could chat to. The shop made it easy for them to pay for goods on-line and provided delivery where necessary. All this was made possible because of the number of volunteers who responded.

The Parish Council was also willing to provide emergency financial support if any resident really needed it.

What support did you access?

We accessed two grants, one from Northumberland County Council of £10,000 and one from The Prince’s Countryside Fund to see if we could develop online shopping. This is in progress – the website is set up but managing inventory is taking a while. We have a new cabin to do this – we need a separate office space. There used to be an office above the shop but we let this out as a flat, generating income from the shop and providing an extra local home.

We were glad not to need any more finance or to take a break from repaying our loan – far from it!

What are your plans moving forward?

We have to do some more work internally in the shop – replacing some shelving – but nothing grand. After running successfully since we bought the shop, we’re in the process of working out a five year plan and we have two new board members.