Fittleworth Stores: A Village Shop That’s More Than Just a Shop

Retired engineer Mick Foote, the driving force behind Fittleworth Stores, embodies the spirit of a community-driven enterprise. With a near million-pound turnover, the award-winning shop and post office is a testament to his dedication, but the smile on his face fades when he talks about the challenge of finding a volunteer sub-postmaster. The shadow of the Horizon IT scandal looms large, highlighting the pressure and responsibility involved. However, he remains determined to find a way, recognizing the post office’s vital role in the community.

Located in the picturesque South Downs of West Sussex, Fittleworth Stores has become a symbol of ‘can do’ commitment. It was crowned the UK’s best village shop and post office at the Countryside Alliance Awards, showcasing its success in a sector often facing challenges. The store’s £450,000 purpose-built space, opened in 2018 thanks to local donations and a pre-Brexit EU grant, serves as a testament to the community’s collective effort.

Despite the cost pressures and volunteer apathy that plague similar social enterprises, Fittleworth Stores thrives on a clear vision and a dedicated team. For £25, locals can buy a share in the store, becoming part of its future. The shop has become the social hub of the village, supporting local businesses and reinvesting profits back into the community, revitalizing a place that had lost its heart.

The shop is a bustling hub, offering everything from groceries to artisan bread and even a café serving over £10,000 worth of coffees a month. New resident Kay Munn credits the store as a key factor in her decision to move to the village, highlighting its convenience and friendly atmosphere. The post office is a constant source of activity, with people queuing for services ranging from holiday euros to fishing licenses.

Fittleworth Stores prides itself on its personal touch, a refreshing change from the impersonal self-service experiences prevalent in today’s world. The team, led by manager Toni Humphreys, is a mix of paid staff and dedicated volunteers, including retirees and students gaining valuable work experience. Toni, with her deep knowledge of the community and commitment to its needs, embodies the shop’s dedication to its customers.

The cost-of-living crisis has seen many similar businesses struggle, but Fittleworth Stores remains resilient. While supplier costs are rising, the shop’s café, with its affordable lunch options, is drawing in families, providing a much-needed respite from soaring prices. The shop’s ability to adapt and respond to challenges, as exemplified by its resilience during the pandemic, is a testament to its spirit.

During the height of the pandemic, the shop became a lifeline for the community, providing essential supplies and supporting vulnerable families through its ‘Food Angels’ scheme. This commitment to its community extends beyond the shop’s walls, with staff checking on elderly residents and offering assistance to those in need. Fittleworth Stores is more than just a shop; it’s a community resource, a testament to the power of collaboration and a source of pride for the village.

Plunkett UK, a rural enterprise charity, recognizes the growing role of community-run shops like Fittleworth Stores. These businesses are not just safeguarding essential services but also creating inclusive employment opportunities and welcoming newcomers to the countryside. While facing challenges, these shops demonstrate resilience and a willingness to innovate, ensuring their continued success.

As the day winds down, the shop continues to be a bustling hub of activity. Volunteers like Nicky Hashfield, who sees the shop as her second family, contribute to the warm and welcoming atmosphere that defines Fittleworth Stores. It is a place where the community comes together, where relationships are nurtured, and where the spirit of ‘can do’ thrives. Fittleworth Stores stands as a beacon of hope in a world increasingly dominated by impersonal experiences, proving that the power of community and personal touch can truly make a difference.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top