Sarratt Post Office Stores is a community owned business that sells a range of food such as bread baked on the premises, hot pastries, drink and general grocery products, as well as a range of stationery and greetings cards. It provides a dry-cleaning service, prescription collection from the local surgery, phone and energy top-ups, and a Post Office counter service. Sarratt is a tiny village with about 2,000 inhabitants and whilst being a quintessential English village with a village green and 3 pubs, 8 years ago they were in danger of losing their village shop and Post Office.
Local residents could see that losing the shop provision would impact massively on the local community and in particular on the elderly and those less mobile as they really relied on the shop for essential provisions and for the Post Office services as the next nearest alternative is three and a half miles away with no bus service to get there. The local Post Office was also important to the local business community as Sarratt is home to eighty small businesses that use the Post Office for parcel services and banking cheques.
In 2010 the village ran a campaign to raise enough money to buy the shop from the existing owners, so that it could stay open and be run and developed over the long term for the benefit of the wider community. Eighty families are shareholders and have ensured that the shop and Post Office remain an important part of this village community.
However, when the local residents started their campaign to save the shop they didn’t know what they needed to do to take it over. Fortunately they came across the Plunkett Foundation, a specialist support organisation with many years of experience helping communities buy and run local businesses such as shops and pubs.
“I think the Plunkett Foundation helped most. One of the most difficult things for us was because we hadn’t done it before we didn’t know where to go [for help]. Once you know what you need you can go and find out. We didn’t know the problems we were going to have regarding resourcing. We needed to do much more to understand the margins and we had some technical support around systems, one of our first priorities was putting in an EPOS system to be able to do product and margin analysis.” Sarratt board member
Over forty volunteers support the three paid members of staff to ensure that the business remains a going concern and importantly provides cost effective products to the most vulnerable. The current turnover of the shop is £600,000.
The Post Office is the most critical service to offer local people and is cross subsidised by money made in the store. If the Post Office was not owned by the local community with clear social aims this part of the business would have disappeared.
“Ultimately it is about keeping a local shop and post office provision, but it is broader than this it is the about the sustainability of the whole village whether it’s the shop, school, village hall or pubs: Unless we keep the village vibrant it will die.” Sarratt board member
Additional benefits that Sarratt Stores brings to the local community include a platform for selling local produce which helps local businesses and reduces food miles. They also provide milk in glass bottles to reduce plastic waste and this has proved very popular with residents. The village shop also provides opportunities for individuals to volunteer, from the age of 13 to 90 plus, offering work experience, increasing self-esteem reducing social isolation.