MAXINE GORDON reports on a local shop where there is no panic buying and everyone is pulling together

WHEN the Bishop Wilton Community Shop opened two months ago, locals could never have imagined how vital it would become to village life.

The store opened in January – resurrecting the local shop which closed almost two years ago.

Villagers faced a trek to Pocklington five miles away just to pick up basics such as a pint of milk or a paper.

So a team of locals led by mum-of-two and graphic designer Annina Diston decided to take matters into their own hands and find a way to bring the local shop back to life.

Annina, who is from Switzerland but has lived in Bishop Wilton for five years with her husband and two young children, said: "We felt there was a real need for a shop – there was something missing from village life."

A committee was formed and luckily the father of one member bought the former shop and agreed to lease it to villagers at a peppercorn rent.

The team then sold "community shares" among villagers and raised almost £50,000 to refurbish the outlet and get it ready for trading.

This Saturday was supposed to be the official launch of the shop – instead, the committee members will be working out how best they can continue to support the community in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

For now, the shop has a cafe selling hot drinks and cakes, which is proving a popular meeting point for locals of all ages.

Annina said: "The cafe is on a mezzanine upstairs and is a popular meeting place for mums as well as teens who come here to do their homework."

She said, following social distancing advice, they had moved the tables further apart and added: "The next measure we might take is to move over to a takeaway service."

As for the shop, the plan is keep it open for as long as possible. A team of around 60 volunteers help run the place on a rota system, under the guidance of the sole member of staff: part-time store manager, Martin Lake.

Even before the pandemic Annina says the shop had quickly become an important focal point for village life.

"People enjoy the interaction and not having to venture far. They come and spend some time in the shop and see people."

Now it's become a lifeline for some who are either self isolating through choice or necessity.

"If the shop wasn't here, lots of people wouldn't be able to go and get bits and bobs."

At a recent committee meeting, volunteers discussed how they might support villagers further.

"We held a meeting to discuss doing deliveries for people who have to self isolate."

Annina said shop volunteers were working with local groups such as the church and the WI to discuss the best ways they can support villagers.

The shop currently sells a wide range of goods from larder staples through to fresh meat and dairy products to frozen items, bread and newspapers – using as many local suppliers a possible, adds Annina.

"We stock all the everyday essentials and keep prices as low as possible," she says.

How are supplies doing at the moment?

"There has no panic buying, but we have sold out of painkillers – and we had some loo roll stolen from the toilet which was disappointing."

Looking ahead, Annina hopes to build on the cafe's popularity by offering more food such as pre-packed sandwiches and a soup of the day.

And they want to train up their army of volunteers so they are confident to carry out all the retail tasks necessary, such as working the till.

Also in the pipeline will be workshops – such as teaching craft skills – for locals to attend.

So who are these volunteers?

"They are a real mix of of people," begins Annina. "We have a few more women than men, and a couple of people are retired but we also have teenagers who come with their parents and mums with school-age children."

And the best bit about opening the shop?

"Seeing people together, sitting in the cafe, having chats. A lot of people wander down every day for a chat. There are lots of conversations now with people who may have lived in the village for ages.

"There is a real buzz on a Saturday morning when people come in for a coffee and the weekend papers – it's a nice place to have breakfast."

Over the next uncertain days and weeks, Annina says the plan is to stay operating as a hub and do whatever is necessary to support local people.

"We have a sense of purpose. A lot of people have come forward to do deliveries."

Besides helping one another, Annina says running the shop is hugely enjoyable. "A lot of us say we love playing shop! It's really good fun as well as really rewarding."