ALMOST a decade after a group of young mums went door-to-door asking if villagers were interested in a local shop their volunteer-run business has become ‘the heart of the community’.

Sandford-on-Thames had been without a village shop for around 20 years when the group, which included current Sandford Talking Shop chairman Abi Johnson, did the initial survey in 2010.

Out of these early efforts came a steering group and a public meeting in January 2011 attended by 70 people from the village, which is just outside Oxford.

A Saturday market and breakfast cafe with a volunteer team of 20 began in the April and has been going ever since, with a weekly footfall of at least 80-150 from the outset.

Ms Johnson said: “The Saturday market was instantly a success, the community clearly needed a hub where people could meet each other, find out what was going on locally and just have friendly company.

“It became the heart of the community and we knew we needed to create something to offer people through the week and something sustainable for the community for the long term.”

Sandford Talking Shop started as a pop-up in April 2016 but has now grown to become a permanent village fixture.

In recognition of its success, the business won The Little Things Award at Plunkett’s Rural Community Ownership Awards 2018 on December 5.

Ms Johnson said volunteers were 'delighted' with the win, adding: “Our village had become a dormitory community, somewhere that people slept but that they left each day to work, socialise and shop elsewhere.

“There was no route in for people to meet each other, nowhere local to pick up essentials or share a conversation. We urgently needed something on residents’ doorsteps.

“In Talking Shop we have something owned and shaped by local people and with a diversity of people behind the counter that makes an equally diverse range of customers feel that this is their space too.”

More than 70 people invested a total of £26,000 as part of community share offer in July 2016.

Ms Johnson said: “With that money we were finally able to open our doors through the week and bring the village its first and much needed drop in space and weekday volunteering project.”

The mother-of-two added: “It is increasingly rare to find a public space that is not tailored more to one group than another, somewhere that welcomes and accepts everyone equally for who they are, and we try to offer that.

“We have seen first hand in Talking Shop how easily someone’s circumstances can spiral downwards and how vital a supportive network and the kindness of other people is when that happens.”

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