Not only would this mean the loss of a job but it would also be bad for the town’s thriving high street – if the greengrocers disappeared, members of the community thought, people would have less reason to come into town and use other shops like the butchers or fishmongers. “Nobody wanted to be a greengrocer,” said Graham Mitchell, one of the residents who has worked to save the shop, “but nobody in the community wanted to lose the greengrocers either.”
A small group of residents realised their best option was to bring the shop into community ownership. They began by putting the idea out through networks and, after getting a positive response, held a public meeting. Attended by around 60 people, there was overwhelming support for the community buying the shop.
Next, a core group developed a business plan and formed a co-operative that would enable the community to buy shares in the business, own and control it.
“Our projections indicated that we needed £15,000 to buy the fixtures and fittings from the current owner and get the business up and running,” says Graham,“ so we decided to do a share issue.”
“The shop shut on May 29 so we held a second public meeting that day, saying that if we could raise £15,000 in the next couple of weeks then we could re-open the greengrocers. By the middle of June we’d raised £18,000.”
The co-operative had sold £10 shares to members of the community. It was made clear that buying shares in the co-operative was risky, but over 100 people invested in the business in those few weeks. The largest amount invested by a single member was around £1,500, but most invested £100 to £150. These members can now own and control the business and can stand for the board.
The co-operative paid £6,000 to the former owner for fixtures and fittings, and the new shop was opened on the 10th July by the Mayor, six weeks after it closed.
The buyout has really brought the community together, says Graham. Members volunteered in advance of the shop opening, helping to sort out, refurbish and clean up the premises. Local businesses helped too – Graham’s worker co-operative fronted some of the costs and another member of the co-operative who is a structural engineer offered over £5,000 worth of their time and expertise.
Other co-operative businesses, including the Handmade Bakery have now moved into the premises. And the community greengrocers has created jobs – not only has it secured the job and raised the wages of the person managing the greengrocer, but it has also employed three more people to work in the shop.