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Fresh hopes for new East Boldre community shop as Baptist church up for sale

HOPES that a community shop and post office can be retained in East Boldre have been reignited with a £630,000 plan to buy and convert a former church.

The East Boldre Community Stores committee has faced a series of setbacks after initially celebrating planning permission to extend the village hall to accommodate a shop.

That idea fell through due to complications with developing on Forest grazing land, as did buying the existing shop when the current owner decided to use it as a home.

The shop could open in East Boldre Baptist Church (picture: Google)
The shop could open in East Boldre Baptist Church (picture: Google)

But now the village’s former Baptist church in Chapel Lane is up for sale and the community stores committee wants to purchase it to transform it into a shop.

East Boldre resident Rebecca Gabzdyl said: “East Boldre’s privately owned shop and post office has been at risk of closure for the last five years and we have invested a huge amount of time and energy in pursuing various local options for a site for our shop.

“This has not been an easy task as our village borders restricted Crown grazing land and local house prices are high.”

Describing the Baptist church as a “one-off opportunity that the community must seize”, Ms Gabzdyl said: “The chapel offers a spacious home for our community shop, very similar in area to the highly successful community shop in Woodgreen.

“The 1990s hall would be demolished to make way for a car park that would provide off-road parking and turning space. Hedges and landscaping would improve the street scene.”

Under plans the facility, which would serve a local population of around 800 people and a wider catchment of around 1,800 residents, would be expanded to offer a wider choice of products, lunchtime opening, campsite deliveries and a refillable products range.

In the past East Boldre had three village shops, and the committee said the loss of the last one would have a devastating impact on the community.

Around 10% of the population do not drive, they claimed, and bus services to and from the village are limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays.

East Boldre Community Stores committee, from left: Judith Richardson, Rebecca Gabzdyl, Andy Brennan and Nick Thompson
East Boldre Community Stores committee, from left: Judith Richardson, Rebecca Gabzdyl, Andy Brennan and Nick Thompson

Ms Gabzdyl said: “Around 21% of our population are single occupancy households so the shop is also a social space for many. People will often come in for some milk and spend 20 minutes chatting.”

“The school, doctors surgery, youth clubs, football club and lunch club have all ceased and local people are in danger of people becoming isolated.”

An offer has now been submitted to the Baptist Union Corporation. If accepted, the committee will press ahead with plans to raise the £637,000 needed to fund the project.

Ms Gabzdyl said: “We had successfully raised a considerable part of our funding target by January 2022 for our proposed purchase of the existing shop.

“Unfortunately, we had to repay all our funders when that plan could not go ahead. As we will need to start fundraising again from scratch, our offer has been made subject to us raising the necessary funds by April 2023.”

The next stage would be for the committee to apply for planning permission to demolish the hall, create the car park, install solar panels and get change of use from a place of worship to a shop.

The hope is the purchase could be completed by March 2023, with a view to opening the shop two months later.

The committee previously made a successful bid to the Community Ownership Fund for £250,000, and it is hoped this can be increased to £299,500. Other community share schemes, funding streams will also be investigated.

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