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Residents say East Boldre village shop takeover is dependent on expansion

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A GROUP of East Boldre residents planning to take over the village shop have proposed an expansion to secure its future for the community.

The villagers, led by Rebecca Gabzdyl, stepped in when the shop’s current owner, Ian Evans, received an offer from a residential buyer after trying for several years to sell the building as a commercial property.

They successfully proposed leasing the store from Mr Evans instead, with plans to expand the commercial area of the ground floor into more of the residential space.

East Boldre Village Stores management committee (from left) Judith Richardson, Rebecca Gabzdyl, Andy Brennan and Nick Thompson
East Boldre Village Stores management committee (from left) Judith Richardson, Rebecca Gabzdyl, Andy Brennan and Nick Thompson

Rebecca, who has been volunteering in the store for the past 18 months to learn the ropes, explained: “We offered a counter proposal and Ian agreed to keep the freehold and lease the shop space to us as a community benefit society.

“The problem with the shop and post office as it is now is that there is very limited floorspace.

“In order to make this viable we would need to increase turnover by 27%, which can best be done by expanding the range of produce we have on offer and making the space less cramped.”

An application has now been submitted to the national park authority for a change of use from residential to retail for part of the ground floor to provide an additional 48 square metres.

There had been plans to incorporate the shop in an ambitious project which gained approval in June to transform the current village hall into a community hub at the heart of the village.

But with estimated completion likely to not be until at least the end of next year, and potential issues over commercial licensing from Forestry England, the residents had to act fast on a plan B.

East Boldre Community Stores Ltd has raised an initial £15,000 to get the new shop project off the ground, but the management committee must now find a further £480,000.

East Boldre Post Office & Stores (picture: Google)
East Boldre Post Office & Stores (picture: Google)

“This will be a not-for-profit organisation but we will have community shareholders,” said Rebecca. “Similar community-run businesses have proved successful, including Pilley’s shop and the one at Woodgreen, and we have had a lot of help from the Plunkett Foundation.

“We have also put in an application to the government’s Community Ownership Fund which helps communities acquire assets that are at risk of being lost by providing match-funding.”

It is hoped the lease will be transferred in February for the group to start trading the following month.

“There will be a real focus on local produce because we know that is what people really want and it’s what distinguishes us from supermarkets and online stores,” added Rebecca.

“We have nearly 40 volunteers who have been busy delivering newsletters and networking, and we know the villagers are behind what we are doing. However, we would urge those who have not already done so to write a letter in support of our planning application.

“Other villages have already lost their shops. We really don’t want that to happen here.

“While a convenience to many, the shop is essential to some, particularly for the 9% of local households with no car and very limited access to a bus service.”

Visit www.eastboldrecommunitystores.com

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