Plunkett Foundation Award Entry 2018.
Community Story of the Year.
What story does your community business have to tell that is unique to your community?
Braishfield Pantry Community Shop and Cafe is a volunteer run business that makes a big difference in our small Hampshire village.
Braishfield's last shop closed some fifteen years' ago. With helpful initial advice from the Plunkett Foundation and other community stores, our village venture evolved rapidly from small fund-raising refreshment events in 2013 into a part-time 'cupboard shop' in 2014 in the village hall. Following public meetings and extensive research/planning sessions, this progressed to opening as a lively commercial and social hub in a spacious oak-framed extension in early 2016. This has thrived as a bright and accessible friendly meeting and information point as well as a shop/cafe with household items, freshly baked goodies and special treats for sale at very reasonable prices. Now we ask, “How did we manage without it?”
Located centrally at the heart of the village, the enterprise was founded on drive, determination and cooperative goodwill with principle aims of:
- supporting the village hall financially to ensure that it could be upgraded and continue to operate and attract a wider range of clients for village activities, sports/arts' clubs, concerts and social gatherings
- achieving greater community engagement and participation to enrich village life at a time when many rural settlements are experiencing decline
- tackling issues of loss of amenities (such as reduced public transport services and potential rural isolation) through facilitating self-help networks that bring local groups together to share skills and expertise.
Braishfield Pantry promotes enterprise locally both as an employer and by supporting excellent suppliers, small Test Valley businesses and nearby farmers' market producers whenever possible which reduces food miles. The shop's extensive range includes gluten free goods, fresh fruit and vegetables, stamps, wines, gin, cards, our best selling oak smoked trout pate/fillets, milk/bread, free range eggs and fresh meats including Broughton Buffalo products, hand-made biscuits and chocolates, jams and chutneys as well as our unique recipe 'Braishfield Bangers' which are sausages made with honey from bees browsing in nearby hedgerows and fields. Early in the Pantry's history, local children chose bees to feature alongside acorns and an oak tree on the business logo that local artist and pop-up book illustrator, Jennie Maizels created. The village's Youth Football Teams are called Braishfield Bees ... it feels fabulous when all the dots suddenly seem to join up and we get even more people involved in our adventure!
Why does this story make the Community Business stand out from other forms of business?
Participation and passion power our project. We have fifty plus brilliant supporters (aged from ten to eighty) helping us to 'Live Life Locally' and run the business and its associated events.
Volunteers share diverse interests and talents to improve village life. Recently, friends have worked on the shop patio/garden area planting bulbs, shrubs and beautiful hanging baskets that give a cheerful welcome and ambience that reflect a community that cares. Other outreach events include hosting our MP's constituency surgery and sharing our start up experiences with project managers preparing to develop community services elsewhere. We liaise with dance, yoga/Pilates and health walk leaders, cyclists and ramblers' groups as well as seniors' Steady and Strong exercise classes to enhance meetings with friendly chat, excellent personal service and thoughtful extras such as assisting with packing and deliveries.
'Storytime' runs in term-time in conjunction with Rugby Tots, so even our youngest guests feel special as they are kept amused with books, songs and games while parents/carers get a break. The business took on the challenge of 'The Beast From the East' bad weather days in 2018 armed with positive bonhomie to become the packed, buzzing focal point for community support as staff and customers collaborated to ensure that the shop opened and essential supplies were available for those requiring help or transport.
Links have been built with Duke of Edinburgh and secondary school pupils and Eastleigh College's Business Studies' students providing chances to research a budding business and to contribute ideas to boost our future development. In summer 2018, we launched an innovative initiative as we welcomed the next generation of entrepreneurs - ten and eleven year old pupils from our primary school, as junior assistants. It was a delight to see the children not only learning useful real-life skills such as serving the general public, financial awareness and working cooperatively in a team, but also sharing their gifts of beaming smiles and engaging enthusiasm that meant so much to our clients. Other youngsters who have contributed to the shop are the local Brownie pack members who organised an interesting display.
Forging ever stronger community links keeps us on our toes. Extra shop openings support eg, the Romsey Beer Race that attracts some four hundred participants. We hold late night openings and wine/gin tastings and encourage our customers to give us their views and helpful feedback that guide us in making stock buying decisions. We assist with First Aid and Village Resilience information evenings and relish any excuse such as a Royal Wedding for a special community party or summer picnic with bunting, bubbly and a good old-fashioned sing-a-long! For the past few years, Santa's adjusted his busy schedule to fit in a visit to a Christmas gathering run by the Village Association at the shop/hall. This is a relaxed occasion when visitors from across the generations join in with entertainment provided by the 'BUMS' (Braishfield Ukulele Music Society) to welcome the festive season in with style while choosing a few last minute stocking fillers … multi-tasking at its best!
Indeed, Braishfield Pantry is fast becoming a popular visitor destination throughout the year with individuals/groups making a particular point of popping by from further afield to catch up and make sure they don't miss out on any of the fun and games of village life. Customers say that planning a visit to our village store can break up a lonely day and boost low morale by giving purpose and motivation to go out when the world seems daunting. Volunteers note that they have enjoyed contributing to a key village asset and are proud to be part of a 'let's get on with it' team that's building on the vision and work of those who, in past years, worked hard to ensure that Braishfield had basic facilities that could be enjoyed by all.
For some, being part of the Pantry has resulted in increased activity that's led to greater self-esteem, confidence and feelings of well-being. New families joining the village say the shop provides excellent chances to meet people and make friends. A gentle introduction or a reminder about upcoming events can be reassuring. We have heard customers say also that a volunteer's enthusiasm and encouragement to learn new skills have led to new opportunities.
Who are the characters in this story? Do they have an interesting story to tell themselves? What can they share from their experience?
Braishfield Pantry is a collaborative team venture that has flourished as a result of the involvement of many. On our journey, we have learnt that 'you never know till you have a go'. By launching out, we have had the excitement of hosting Hampshire County Council's Small Business conference in 2016 and also were thrilled that year to be chosen as winners in Hampshire Life magazine's 'Best Independent Food Shop' award. In 2017, our volunteers' hard work and achievements were celebrated when the shop won Test Valley Borough Council's 'Doing Business Locally' accolade. September 2018 has seen Braishfield Pantry featured in Hampshire Life's magazine article about the important role of village shops in rural life.
The business now has four directors: Ian Barrow, Meri Knights, Gemma Quarendon and Ros Taylor who, along with five other volunteers, are on the Management Committee. This reports to the Village Hall Committee that is the sole shareholder. We have one paid part-time member of staff, Sharon Fielding, who beavers away as our shop supervisor and brilliant cook. Our merry band of volunteers has a range of skills and backgrounds. We are most grateful to all those who undertake extra responsibilities and tasks such as buildings' maintenance, cleaning and stock takes without cost to the business so that most of our profits can be invested back into the shop and hall for the benefit of the community. We have been pleased that energy-saving chillers and a more efficient coffee machine have been installed in the past year. We also had the chance to up-cycle some attractive wooden shelving that might otherwise have gone to landfill.
Since its inception, Braishfield Pantry has sought to raise funds for local causes including 'Romsey Young Carers' and 'Heartstart' which works to encourage citizens to train and learn about defibrillators. Local 'First Responder', Roy Bayntun and his St. John Ambulance colleagues gave up an evening last year to lead a gently humorous and most informative talk at the shop. We're all still humming along to the 'Archers', 'Staying Alive' and 'Nellie the Elephant' tunes that could help us focus in an emergency situation. The demonstration gave us the confidence to 'have a go' if intervention in the form of chest compression or the use of the village defibrillator should be required. We are now collecting for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance Service. Customers and staff certainly do that extra bit for charities that any one of us may need to call upon one day.
By pitching in and working together, we have produced an exciting new shop story that tells of an 'active not passive' community engaging in a purposeful project that involves much laughter and many special shared times. Four years' ago, Braishfield Pantry Community Shop and Cafe was just a seed of an idea needing nurture and commitment. Now, we are looking forward to fruitful days ahead as we branch out further to make the most of every new opportunity and ensure that in Braishfield,
'Great oaks from little acorns do grow'.