A Brief History of the Pantry

Braishfield Pantry offers a warm welcome to all.  We're an award winning community run shop and cafe, located at the heart of our delightful Test Valley village three miles to the north of Romsey.  We're adjacent to the village hall at the recreation ground just up from our little primary school, so do pop by - we'd love to meet you.  You'll soon feel very much at home here as our customers quickly become good friends rather than visitors passing through!

Braishfield in Years Gone By

Not so many years' ago, Braishfield was fortunate in having had three shops as well as other village based businesses.  The 2003 book, 'Braishfield Memories', ISBN 0-9546285-0-7 (now out of print), has fascinating photographs and commentaries that capture the way of life experienced in many rural communities up to the last years of the twentieth century.  The Hampshire Records' Office in Winchester has informative maps, letters, photographs and documents relating to our village history and it seems that much of life really was lived locally as services and retailers were still available close to the grass roots of home.  If you have memories or photographs of the shops and past times in Braishfield, we'd be thrilled if you would share them with us.  We can always find time for a 'cuppa' and a chat!    

Braishfield Pantry – The Early Days.

 

As is the pattern in many rural settlements, the last village shop closed some years ago.  Starting out as a refreshment enterprise that served clients through a less than glamorous hatch in the hall, the new venture attracted interest and further support. Soon, it became clear that the time could be right to consider launching a community shop.  Public meetings were held and surveys conducted to assess the viability of such a business.  Research was undertaken and visits were made to other shops.  Practical advice was sought from 'The Plunkett Foundation' and residents, families and friends came forward with offers of help. 

In 2013/14, the Braishfield Pantry initiative was launched.  The intention was to create a  hub that would facilitate social interaction and the sharing of community news and information  with any future profits from cafe and shop sales being used to help finance the on-going updating and improvement project at the village hall.  The hall is used by many diverse groups and individuals.  The strategy of helping to fund and implement significant changes to the much-loved, but rather tired looking building and its facilities seemed the best way to look ahead to address future needs and hirer expectations.  As a community we are investing in a key village asset that will benefit many and are building on the generosity and legacy of those who had the vision in the 1970s and 1980s to build Braishfield Village Hall on its present site. 

Improvements such as the recent refitting and decorating of the toilet facilities signal the commitment and care that are features of the overall development plan.  We intend to create a lighter, fresher and more welcoming ambience by installing sky-lights and by undertaking a refurbishment in phases of the hall's kitchen, storage areas, lobby, heating and lighting.  All of this will enhance the experience of such hall users as the Steady and Strong Exercise group, Social Contact Group and Brendon Care volunteers who work hard to put on talks, demonstrations and get-togethers for seniors.

The shop, cafe and hall work in close partnership to make visits to Braishfield as enjoyable as possible.  It's always a pleasure to have our hall users popping into the shop before or after classes … no, we won't mention those cakes and treats to anyone as they are clearly a very  important element of the dance, Pilates and yoga sessions!

Through hard work, goodwill and encouragement and both financial and practical support from many individuals as well as gifts and grants from the Parish Council, Braishfield Village Association, other local groups and organisations and HCC and Test Valley Borough Council, our business was launched.  Braishfield Pantry has continued to grow and flourish … indeed, appropriately for a village that has adopted the oak tree as its symbol, it seems that 'Great oaks from little acorns do grow'! 

At first, the shop operated from a cramped part of the hall's storage area that had been kitted out by a resourceful DIY party and very determined cleaning team that was armed with a good sense of humour!  Then, as it became clear that the ambitious project was developing rapidly, plans were discussed to build a purpose built retail and cafe space within a pleasing extension to the 1980s' hall building.  Construction work commenced in the autumn of 2015.  Imagine the buzz and excitement in early February 2016 as moving in day approached just two years after the initial phase of the community 'cupboard' shop!  Actually, there were just days to go before Hampshire's Small Business Conference was to be hosted in the hall with some eighty guests to be catered for and accommodated for meetings and discussion groups.  We're glad to say that everything went well and we could start to look ahead confidently to trading in our new premises.

The Pantry as it was...

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Work on the new shop...

And the grand opening...

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Our retail space continues to evolve.  Early after our move into the new building, we were able to acquire attractive and practical 'second hand' wooden shelving that replaced the former metal units that had served us well but that were rather utilitarian and lacking in aesthetic appeal.  We were pleased to have been able to up-cycle units that were no longer needed elsewhere.  We continue to work on our efforts to encourage recycling of paper, cardboard, glass and metals and our customers are very supportive in remembering to bring their own shopping baskets and bags to help in the challenge of reducing the numbers of plastic bags being used locally.  When planning to invest in new equipment, we consider efficiency and environmental issues – our new chillers bought in 2017 certainly helped to reduce energy costs.

Exciting news is always welcome and we can report that a new addition has just arrived in June 2018 to enhance our card stock display.  We are very grateful to a villager who has made and painted a splendid shelving and cupboard unit that fits perfectly into the store.  This improves the flow around the shop and makes browsing for that special occasion card or wrapping much easier.

Today, we are proud to be able to contribute to the rural economy by employing a part-time shop supervisor and a locally based book-keeper.  The wider hall and shop team, however, is drawn from our wonderful volunteers and supporters who generously give their time and expertise by, for example, working behind the counter in the shop or contributing significantly behind the scenes.  There's shopping for supplies to be done, helping with buildings and garden maintenance; organising the website and social media updates, designing our logo and adverts; in-house and on-line training to arrange for new helpers or researching new products and visiting or liaising with potential new suppliers and community groups that want to use our services.  

Volunteers.

 

Our supporters tell us that volunteering is rewarding and is a great way of meeting others.  We have around fifty helpers overall who juggle skilfully their commitments (ranging from grandparent patrol to caring duties to part-time and other volunteering work, travel and hobbies).  Individuals feel that they are making a difference contributing to business success and being part of developing a key community asset.  The shop and cafe bring people together across the age spectrum and provide a vibrant centre that can help alleviate loneliness and isolation.

Work opportunities for secondary school pupils, Duke of Edinburgh and Business Studies' students from Eastleigh College have been created as part of our community links.  These  experiences could be useful for CVs and discussion at those all-important interviews that lead to further education and first jobs.  

During the summer term 2017, we ran a French Week at the time of Bastille Day and many of the school children demonstrated their burgeoning language skills. Summer 2018 has also seen the Pantry forging closer links with Braishfield Primary School.  It has been delightful to have welcomed local Year 5 and 6 pupils to the shop as junior assistants.  The children have embraced taking on the tasks of serving customers, taking turns to use the till, pricing stock and refilling the shelves and keeping everything clean and tidy. This exciting project contributes to pupils' basic financial awareness.  They also develop key life skills including working in a team, patience, tact and an introduction to the importance of organising chilled and frozen foods properly and the basics of food safety and hygiene.

 

Our popular story time and games' time for toddlers is held in the cafe once a week in conjunction with a well attended 'Rugby Tots' session.  We have thoroughly enjoyed hosting our younger visitors from local village playgroups as well. The Brownies in the village have helped with our seasonal displays - it's always fun to see the creative ideas of our local youngsters.

 

Other events, such as wine tastings, a VJ Day commemoration, a cookery demonstration by a local chef and birthday and retirement gatherings have been memorable events in our busy calendar.  We aim to support local events and national celebrations as well.  Our cook, Sharon made a huge special 90th birthday cake for the occasion of HM the Queen's birthday which was enjoyed by everyone in the village at a summer picnic on the recreation ground.  Recently, Braishfield School children created a delightful set of bunting as the main decorative feature for our Royal Wedding Tea Party that celebrated Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's marriage with music, scrummy cakes, lashings of tea and maybe one or two glasses of bubbly.

Increasingly, Braishfield Pantry acts as a friendly communication centre and convenient meeting point for villagers of all ages as well as groups such as tennis and badminton players and cyclists, walkers and tourists from further afield who are exploring Hampshire's glorious countryside.  The adjoining Village Hall caters for many sporting, dance and activity groups as well as acting as a spacious venue for parties, special celebrations and family gatherings, concerts and plays.

 

These links with community events, activities and important occasions were recognised at some of the county's prestigious celebration evenings in recent years.  It's been rewarding for all of our team to see that aiming to make a difference and enhancing local life were recognised as key factors in how the shop and cafe operation impacts positively within its rural setting. 

Our charities.

 

Since its setting up, Braishfield Pantry has supported local charities that have a particular connection to residents and visitors.  We would like to thank everyone who has donated to and supported our chosen charities including the 'Romsey Young Carers' and 'Heartstart' groups which were our good causes in the early days.  We were very grateful to Braishfield's Community First Responder, Roy Bayntun and his brilliant St John Ambulance team who presented a gently humorous but extremely informative evening for us in May 2017 to explain how ordinary members of the public can and do undertake Emergency Life Support in everyday situations that can make a difference before professional help arrives.  That 'Staying Alive' video and 'Nellie the Elephant' tune and 'Archers' theme are still in our heads, Roy!

Summer 2018 sees us ready to support Hampshire and IOW Air Ambulance which is a charity that undertakes remarkable work and that any one of us might need to call upon one day.

Awards and Accolades.

 

In the autumn of 2016, we were thrilled to have been chosen as a finalist in the Hampshire CPRE Countryside awards.  We learnt a lot by meeting other small business managers and owners.  We were very excited to hear that we had been selected as runners up in the 'Rural Enterprise section. 

 

Later that autumn, Braishfield Pantry won the 'Best Independent Food Shop' category at the Hampshire Life magazine awards.  In 2017, we entered the Test Valley Borough Council small business awards and were delighted to have won the 'Doing Business Locally' award that was sponsored by Taylored IT.  These accolades reflect the involvement, work and energy of our multi-talented cast of helpers and supporters upon whom we call all too frequently, no doubt!  We are so lucky to have such an extensive, focused and able team . We thank everyone who has been part of our community adventure so far and look forward to  the opportunities that may come in the future for fun, further growth and achievements that will continue to combine and contribute to the quality of life in the village.  If you would like to join our merry band of volunteers, please pop in the shop or look at the website for more information.

'The Beast From the East' snow days of 2018 saw Braishfield Pantry coming into its own.  Our motto of 'Live Life Locally' really seemed to be reflected in the wonderful community spirit and bonhomie that abounded as friends and neighbours stocked up on shopping for those unable to get out and about in the locality.  The shop and cafe stayed open when many other businesses were struggling to cope.  We were very grateful to those wonderful local suppliers who went the extra mile to deliver to us, thus ensuring that our clientele didn't end up like this hungry looking trio of twiggy snow people!

Braishfield Pantry Stock.

 

What about our stock?  Well, we have Sharon's excellent home-baked goodies to tempt you.  You'll have to visit a few times to trial the extensive range on offer as the selection includes splendid sausage rolls, quality quiches, super sponges, marvellous millionaire's shortbread, fabulous flap-jacks, fruitcakes and many other delicious delights.  Do let us know which is your favourite!  

Of course, we also have baking goods, bread from Honesty bakery, biscuits (everyday and the hand made Romsey Little Bee artistic wonders and Fine Cheese Company specialities), cereals, cheeses and fresh fruit and veggies delivered from Hansards in Awbridge three times a week.  There's interesting ranges of crisps, snacks and nibbles for you too as well as Berry Brothers' wines, Flack Manor beers and Corner 53 gin. 

 

Special products like our very own Braishfield Bangers (honey and mustard sausages), have a keen following.  We also have Greenfield Pork products and Thursdays see our deliveries of Jane's New Forest Smokery trout pate and fillets, Roy Hunt's pies and freshly laid King's Somborne Free Range eggs.  We have a range of delicious locally made chutneys/jams/pickles and Hill Farm juices and Yarty cordials.  Jude's ice-cream is always popular and our selection of ready meals from Austwick's in Andover can be handy to have in the freezer.  Those everyday household items that we all need, including stock cupboard staples, cleaning products and stamps, are also available.

We are proud to support local producers and suppliers whenever possible and we continue to look out for innovative new products so that we can extend our ranges in the future. Initially, we stocked about two hundred lines and we have built up to around six hundred now.  Have a look at our website to get updates about what's new and exciting in the Pantry range:

On the front counter, you'll find our comments and suggestions' book that gets lots of very kind compliments from customers.  Ideas for new products that people would like us to sell are flagged up.   We always try to accommodate these suggestions.  Indeed, it was as a result of one such request that we now stock a wide range of gluten free products.