Dunshalt is the first village in Fife to have saved its only shop from closure by organising a community buyout.
“The last owners of the shop closed it in 2016 and applied for planning permission to turn it into a house,” explains village resident Eleanor Porter who, with a background in charity fundraising, knew her way around a funding application.
“The village objected and Fife Council said that the village should be given time to try and raise the funds to buy the shop, if that is what they wanted to do.
“The general feeling in the community was that the shop had been the heart of the village – not only a lifeline for the elderly who relied on it for their groceries, but also as a hub where people met each other and passed on news,” she continues.
“With no pub or church, there was nowhere else where villagers could just casually ‘bump in to each other’ which risked those living alone becoming isolated and cut off.”
A small steering group was formed out of a public meeting and fundraising began in earnest.
“Not only did we have to raise enough funds to buy the premises, but we needed to completely refurbish and refit it, and pay for staff members as we knew such a tiny village could not run a shop on volunteers alone,” Eleanor explains.
“Our first fundraising success was winning a development grant from the Scottish Land Fund which allowed us to bring in a consultant to help us create a business plan and crunch the figures to make sure our plans were viable. It also gave us some working funds to pay for a valuation survey.
“We then applied to the Scottish Land Fund for the funds to buy the premises and give us some money to start off our renovations. When we were successful with that application we started getting really excited that we might just be able to pull off a plan that many people said we wouldn’t be able to do,” she says.
“Once we took ownership of the property in early 2018 we held a community share issue which raised over £30,000 and put the shop into the ownership of 200 shareholders.
“Most of the shareholders are people who live in the village but we were supported by lovely folks from surrounding villages as well as from people living as far afield as Aberdeen and the south of England, who heard about what was happening and wanted to renew old family ties with the village.”
Full steam ahead
They also applied for EU funding through the Fife Leader fund, which would give them what they needed to restore and fit out the shop, as well as seed-fund their manager and an assistant.
“When we were successful with this, it was full steam ahead restoring and rebuilding the shop, which took most of 2019,” says Eleanor.
“We wanted to make the shop a real asset. Interior walls were removed to maximise the space and allow for a small community cafe, where local people could meet and enjoy each other’s company.”
After three years’ hard work, the Dunshalt Shop – the small shop with a big heart – opened on March 9 last year.
“From the word go, our aim was to stock as much good-quality local produce as possible, as well as grocery staples. We also did home-cooked lunches and baking which was served in the cafe as well as available to take away to support local farmworkers and businesses,” says Eleanor.
But they were only open for two weeks when Covid struck.
“First, we closed the cafe, and then, just hours before the national lockdown was announced, the committee took the decision to close the doors of the shop to the public and move to a free home delivery service to Dunshalt and the surrounding villages,” she explains.
Stay at home
“This was both to protect our staff and to help people heed the message to stay at home.
“With most of our suppliers being local, we were able to supply food in the community when the supermarkets were struggling to keep their shelves stocked.”
Dunshalt shop’s home delivery service was a great success and with volunteer drivers and village teenagers delivering on foot, they were able to drop people’s messages at their door, give them a smile and wave, and check they were keeping safe and healthy.
“We also did a prescription pick-up service, collecting medicines from the local chemist and delivering them with their groceries.
“We reopened the doors to the public when lockdown eased (but with only takeaway food, not the sit-in cafe) and it has been doing great trade ever since,” smiles Eleanor.
She firmly believes villages shouldn’t be allowed to become simply rural housing estates, with no amenities.
“Nor should the countryside be allowed to become just affordable to those who can drive everywhere to use amenities and get their shopping,” she says. “We also have great local food produced all around us. We wanted to support those producers who are also part of our community.
“What makes villages like Dunshalt great is that they are home to a wide variety of people, both young and old living in a community and looking out for each other.
“The ethos behind the shop is simply ‘Love Local – love living locally, Give love and support to your local suppliers, Give local people good jobs, and show that loving your community can do amazing things’.”
Eleanor describes getting the shop up and running as being “like climbing a mountain and running a marathon – there were times we felt we couldn’t carry on and there were times we felt we couldn’t look back because there was so far to fall if we failed.”
But all the hard work in Dunshalt has been more than worth it. “We get lots of people coming in from the surrounding villages because they like our local focus and the fact we are supporting the community,” she smiles.
“Our staff are also the smiliest, most cheerful bunch of people in the business, so you can’t help but leave the shop happy.
“We get passing cyclists coming in and even folks from much further afield who have read or heard about this interesting shop in this tiny village, and just want to see it for themselves.
“I love that it proves that social enterprise works. Profit does not have to make the world go around. I also love going in there as a customer, buying my groceries without getting in the car and enjoying a chat with the brilliant staff team – I always leave feeling happier than when I went in.
“We are all looking forward to the day when we can sit down together again in the café post-pandemic!”