When Morland’s village shop closed more than 10 years ago, no-one expected it to return. Against the odds it has.
Morland Store and More began trading on January 13, the brainchild of Fiona Stuart who runs the venture assisted by unpaid volunteers.
She moved to the picturesque Eden Valley village three years ago with her partner Darren and their daughter, Alice, who has just turned five.
“I was looking for work but hadn’t been able to find anything decent that fitted in around Alice,” she said. “I liked the idea of doing something for the village.”
The opportunity arose when Appleby Brewery left a former stable on The Square last October to move to bigger premises.
Fiona said: “I said to Darren it would be a good location for a village shop.
“We’re eight miles from the nearest shops in Appleby, Penrith and Shap, and none of the roads is good.
“The idea wouldn’t go away and the project took on a life of its own. I would wake up at night thinking about it.”
The building vacated by the brewery belonged to Freddy Markham who once ran a mail order travel clothing business there, Travelling Light.
Fiona said: “I put a proposal together thinking he would say ‘no’ but to my amazement he said ‘yes’ and offered six months rent free to get it off the ground. I thought, ‘I’ve got to do it now’.”
Capital was in short supply but she managed to find a refrigerated food display unit on eBay for £150.
“The problem was getting it here from the other side of York,” she said. “I went down with a hired van that I thought was big enough but it wouldn’t fit through the roller door so I had to go back with a 7.5 tonne lorry.
“Tom Thwaites from [the engineering business] Thwaites Services in Morland came with two pallet trolleys and one of his employees to help unload it. We’d never have got it in the shop without him.”
The reaction from villagers, she says, has been “absolutely marvellous”.
Moira Evans, a Morland resident of 20 years who volunteers in the shop on Saturdays, said: “I was so excited when I heard that someone had taken it on. Fiona has such enthusiasm. Everyone in the village is ecstatic. The fresh produce is a really big thing. We all like local produce.”
Suppliers include Cocklakes Farm Shop at Troutbeck, which provides meat and pies, the Cheese Larder in Kendal, Traybakes of Penrith and Vista Veg of Crosby Ravensworth. Milk is from North Lakes Foods of Penrith and bread from Bryson’s of Keswick.
Some produce originates from the immediate area around Morland such as eggs from Hesley Farm and Highgate Rare Breeds sausage and meats, made on the second week of every month.
More unusual lines include Lakeland Biltong, a high-protein beef snack from Keswick, and Stornoway Black Pudding. The shop is the only retailer in the county for the latter, made on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Fiona said: “I used to buy it when we lived in Aberdeenshire and I love it, but couldn’t find a stockist when we moved to Cumbria.
“We had to buy £150 worth but I told everybody about it and it has flown off the shelf. Some people have been back two or three times. We’re re-ordering.”
Fiona does have business experience, having run a dog-grooming business in Scotland for 10 years.
She realised straight away that a village shop on its own was not viable.
So Morland Store and More is, as the name suggests, more than a shop – in effect a community hub.
There is a reading room with books and magazines that people can borrow and swap, a local history section with old photographs, and an arts and crafts section where items are sold on commission.
There are secondhand – or ‘pre-loved’ as Fiona prefers to call them – clothes, jewellery and other items including a complete set of golf clubs. Some of these are donated but higher-value items are sold on commission.
Fiona said: “People bring things in that they would take to a charity shop. We sell them and put the money towards the electricity bill.”
The store also sells preserves made by two ladies from the village to raise money for Arthritis Research UK.
There are plans for an art exhibition later in the year.
Fiona isn’t taking a wage yet and is ploughing profits back into increasing the range of stock.
She said: “I’d like to take a wage at some point, and when I go on holiday I’ll have to pay someone to look after it.”
According to the Association of Convenience Stores, there are 19,128 rural shops in UK but between 300 and 500 are closing each year. However, community shops, which rely in part on volunteers, are growing in number.
So is Morland Village Store and More the model for village shops?
Fiona said: “I have wondered about that. As it stands, probably not. I don’t expect it to make a profit as such. We’re a small village with 300 residents.
“If you have a shop with a café, that would work, but we already have a really good one in Morland, Mill Yard Café, so that isn’t an option for us.
“I think the answer is combining a shop with other things. In Tirril they have a shop in the pub, for example.”
Before opening, Fiona enrolled on the Business Start-Up Support (BSUS) programme run by the Chamber’s Cumbria Business Growth Hub.
This offers free one-to-one mentoring and access to courses and workshops.
She said: “My Growth Hub adviser, Colin Cheyne, was very useful and encouraging, and helped to instil confidence.
“And I did a really good workshop on Facebook for business. I’d only been on Facebook for two years and didn’t have a clue how to use it.”
The shop’s Facebook page is updated regularly with snippets on new stock and visitors who drop in.
Paul Teague, the Chamber’s Digital Development Manager, said: “Fiona picked it up very quickly and has done exactly the right thing with her Facebook page.
“In a small community like Morland, you don’t need thousands of ‘Likes’ on your page. You need to do exactly what Fiona has done – create a wonderful sense of community and activity around the village store and to make sure that as many local people as possible connect with that page.
“It’s an excellent example of how to run a small business Facebook page.”
If you are thinking of starting your own business or social enterprise, then Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and our partners are here to help with a free business start-up programme to point you in the right direction.
Our comprehensive package of support includes:
- Free meetings with a business adviser to review and develop your business idea;
- Free training covering business planning and self-employment, an introduction to marketing/market research and sales forecasts, promotion and sales, an introduction to planning and managing finance, taxation and bookkeeping, using the internet and social media;
- Free help to develop your business plan and get your business up and running;
- Free membership of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
The £1.1m Business Start-up Support (BSUS) project is supporting 300 new businesses and 750 individuals to start businesses, creating 300 jobs.
For more information, call us today on 0844 257 84 50 or click here to visit the Cumbria Business Growth Hub web site.
The funding that supports the Growth Hub comes from a range of sources including Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, the European Regional Development Fund, Allerdale Borough Council (Sellafield Ltd’s Allerdale SIIF, distributed by Allerdale Borough Council), Barrow Borough Council (FEDF Coastal Communities Fund Supply Chain Initiative, the Coastal Communities Fund is funded by the Government with income from the Crown Estates marine assets; it is delivered by the Big Lottery Fund on behalf of UK Government), Carlisle City Council, Eden District Council, South Lakeland District Council and Cumbria LEP.
The BSUS project is receiving up to £1,112,686 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information, click here.