A few months back here in Thurlton, we suffered a rural excitement. The village shop and post office was in difficulty and the owners were faced with imminent foreclosure.
I found myself Chair of a steering group to take forward a scheme to obtain the shop and post office for ownership by the whole village. The project was to set up a Community Interest Company (a company in which all the assets are owned by the community and no individual or group can make financial gain from it).
The objects of the company were established early. These were:
- To provide retail, postal and other services in the parish of Thurlton, Norfolk;
- To serve as a meeting place and focal point for the community of Thurlton.
- To promote local produce, local culture, healthier lifestyles and a more environmentally suitable community economy.
- To provide for an information/advice/advocacy point for health and social care, disability rights, LINks contact and service user involvement.
We quickly got together a survey of total village opinion, delivering the brief questionnaires to every house by hand and collecting them a week later. Frequent personal contact with householders helped to ensure a very positive response. A subsequent public meeting was arranged and that meeting endorsed the steering group proceeding with exploring legal interim lease arrangements with the mortgage provider; setting up a Community Interest Company for the village; and applying for grants.
The hard work of realising these arrangements was about two thirds of the way through when the steering group, open to membership to all, was joined by a newcomer who had been at the public meeting and had spoken well. Unfortunately, this person is a businessman with his eye open for personal gain. He went over the steering group’s heads and made an ad hoc informal renting arrangement between himself and the owners.
He announced his own plans for the shop and post office telling us he had paid a month’s rent himself to prevent the foreclosure. I refused to have anything more to do with any agreement of this kind at that point. (The steering group had previously unanimously resolved that any lease agreement had to be between solicitor and solicitor with tight conditions that the rent would be paid straight to the mortgage company and would have a termination point of two years when the proposed village Community Interest Company would look to purchase).
The steering group staggered on for another three weeks but after that, the businessman announced he and his wife would take over the shop and post office as their own business.
“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose garden.”