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Plans to save East Boldre village shop hit a bump in the road

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AMBITIOUS plans by a group of East Boldre residents to save the village shop have hit a “bump in the road” which could add major costs to the scheme.

As reported in the A&T, current owner Ian Evans has been trying for several years to sell the building as a commercial property before the group of villagers, led by Rebecca Gabzdyl, offered to take out a lease on the store.

But the committee said that arrangement has now broken down and Mr Evans once again wants to sell up.

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

Having failed to find any alternative sites, Rebecca said the community group had no other option now but to try to buy the building.

“This is a bump in the road and not a road block,” she told the A&T. “Our plans have had to adapt accordingly, and we are now intending to purchase the whole of the existing shop property.

“It’s still early days, but clearly the cost will be significantly higher.

“Our expectation is that the upstairs will be converted to a two-bed flat which we would likely sell – small properties are in short supply in the New Forest so this would meet a clear local need for such homes.

“And owning the freehold of the ground floor would make the shop premises a more valuable, permanent community asset.”

Rebecca said she could not yet give an indication of how much the building would cost, but insisted the project could be successful with funding and the right support.

“We are aware of several other community shops across the country that have successfully done something very similar and will be learning from their experiences via the Plunkett Foundation’s community shops network,” she said.

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

The group is awaiting the outcome of an application to the government’s Community Ownership Fund, which helps residents acquire community assets and amenities, and Rebecca said the store would have community shareholders.

A planning application submitted by the group in August to expand the shop is currently being considered by the national park authority, and has received 75 letters of support.

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

“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.”

The application asks for a change of use from residential to retail for the remainder of the ground floor to provide an additional 48 square metres.

“Other villages have already lost their shops,” said Rebecca. “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.”

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