Shop run by volunteers provides essential 'hotspot' for community
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
"We're more than just buying a loaf of bread and getting some milk, we're a community hotspot and look after the community."
That is the ethos of those running Rocklands Community Shop in Rockland All Saints, near Attleborough.
To the staff and many volunteers who dedicate their time there on a daily basis, it is about more than just providing a shop, post office and café.
It is about forming friendships and supporting the wider community - whether it be through loss or isolation.
The shop opened in March 2014 after hundreds of residents came together to save the post office in The Street, when previous owners Alan and Elaine Johnson announced they wished to retire after more than 25 years.
They offered the business to the village to run it as a community venture and following a public meeting, which highlighted the desire for the shop and post office to remain in the village, an industrial provident society was formed.
A share offer was set up which raised £46,000 at the time after 209 people showed their support.
And since that time the community owned and run business has gone from strength to strength following an "awful lot of very hard work" by the volunteer committee, and grants from the Plunkett Foundation, Prince's Countryside Fund, the Big Lottery Fund, the Norfolk Community Foundation, Norfolk County Council's Social Infrastructure Fund and the Hopkins-Plunkett funding scheme.
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Now the team of four staff and 40 volunteers at Rocklands Community Shop not only provide items such as fresh bread, fruit and veg, milk and locally supplied meat at a competitive price, but also offer a place for people to meet and chat.
Philip Dingle, 67, vice-chair of the Rocklands Community Shop committee, said: "You just have to watch the clientele and how they react to see what the place is all about.
"You know just from chatting with some that you are the only person they have spoken to all week.
"There's little groups that meet like a local knitting group and a photography group."
Mr Dingle, who used to run Mr D's Diner on the A11 at Attleborough, said he got involved in the shop after wanting something to do.
He said the community spirit at Rockland makes them stand out and has been recognised by others, who have got in touch to learn about how they operate.
One of the shop's managers, Jane Stubbs, who joined at the start of the first Covid lockdown, added that the shop also gives volunteers a "sense of purpose".
The 55-year-old, who lives in the village, said: "A lot of customers come in as a drop-in centre.
"Friendships are formed, that's the lovely part of the shop.
"We try to involve a lot of people to be part of the community, some are alone or bereaved, and often you feel you are part-counsellor and offer advice or point them in the right direction for support.
"It's definitely a lifeline for the community.
"I have seen it recently when we have lost three or four people in our community. You have widowers come in for a chat, and we have been beneficiaries for two people's wills.
"It shows in a nutshell what people think of us."
The shop remained open throughout the pandemic and also offered a delivery service to the vulnerable and those isolating. That service still remains in place for a few people locally.
And the premises has recently been refitted to improve the cafe area and make the premises more accessible for the disabled.
"If you walk into the shop it looks like any other but if you spend just five minutes you realise how much we rely on people giving up their time," Ms Stubbs said.
"It's the fact we're more than just buying a loaf of bread and getting some milk, we're a community hotspot and look after the community."
Mr Dingle expressed his appreciation on behalf of the committee for all the staff and volunteers, the Johnsons, and Ms Stubbs.
He added: "The shop is a great asset to the community and has helped many people stay safe through the last two years and long may it continue to."
It is now open on Monday and Wednesday to Friday from 8am to 5.30pm, Saturday from 8am to 4pm, and Tuesday and Sunday from 8am to 1pm.
Rocklands Community Shop is always looking for volunteers to join. Those interested can contact Ms Stubbs on 07502 332264.