Itteringham Community Shop celebrates 370 years of trade

Albert Fairhead outside during his first year as the new owner of Itteringham Village Shop in 1908
Image caption The Itteringham Village Shop was taken over by Albert Fairhead in 1908 and run by his family until 1994

One of the oldest shops in England is bucking high street trends and competition from supermarkets thanks to a team of Norfolk volunteers.

The shop in Itteringham has been trading since 1637. It has been run as a community shop since 1994 and now has an annual turnover of about £100,000.

Volunteer Mike Hemsley said the secret of its success is to ensure "supplying local needs is the priority".

About 25 people, from 120 who live in the village, help run the store.

According to the Plunkett Foundation, a charity that helps rural communities through community-ownership, the Itteringham shop is one of 301 community-owned shops in the UK.

Desert oasis

Three operate in Norfolk, along with a community-owned pub and one community arts centre, hub and cafe.

"Community shops are a way of bucking the trend and rising to the challenge is the thing that makes us a success," said Mr Hemsley.

He said: "In spite of the recession the village is taking steps to get customers into the shop, rather than saying because of the recession it's going to be quieter and we should give up."

The shop had been run by the Fairhead family since the early 1900s, but was taken on as a community project in 1994.

Image caption Closure threatened the shop when Brian and Dorothy Fairhead became ill

Mr Hemsley said: "When Brian Fairhead died the village decided they wanted to keep the shop going.

"Brian felt it probably wouldn't be supported by the local community, but we've obviously been able to prove him wrong.

"We have our core customers from the village, but also people who are cycling, rambling and making their way up to the Norfolk coast who stumble upon us like an oasis in a desert.

"They are quite surprised to find this shop selling lots of local produce and exotic foods as well."

For the Itteringham Village Shop, the trend to shop locally is nothing new.

Image caption Community volunteers started running the shop following the death of owner Brian Fairhead

"We celebrate Norfolk food now and were doing that back in 1994, the curious thing is we've become trendy," said Mr Hemsley.

"We always did shop locally, partly because when buying produce it helps with our supply chain.

"Rather than having to take a large sum of money to a supermarket or wholesaler, we buy lots of things from a variety of local producers and spread our money around a bit. Our suppliers are very loyal to us and very reliable."

A centre of village life, the shop's 370 year history has been captured in a new book, The Village Shop - self-published to help raise money for the community.

He said: "By going through archive documentation and interviewing people who worked in the shop we were able to put the flesh on the bones of how the shop has been running since 1994 .

"It's proving popular because of the number of people that have been involved over the years, you can see the family histories it has affected."

Image caption Chocolate tiffin is one of the village shop's best sellers

After more than three centuries of successful trading it appears the shop's longevity is down to two things.

"It's due to the individual generations that have run the shop in deciding supplying local needs is the priority," said Mr Hemsley, "And our best selling chocolate tiffin.

"We get through about 9kg (20lbs) a week at £1.95 a slab, whatever the ingredients are inside - it's working. People cycle from miles around just to get slabs of it."

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