The village shop in Darley that’s run by the local community
- Credit: Joan Russell
When the last shop in Darley closed, villagers decided it was time for a spot of DIY.
As the closed sign was flipped for the last time in Darley’s only remaining shop, the 800 or so villagers could have just shrugged or grumbled or whined. But they didn’t. They fought back.
Meetings were organised, funds raised, plans drawn up and action taken with a vigorous enthusiasm that isn’t immediately obvious when you climb the steep slope from the River Nidd to what looks like a typical sleepy hillside haven.
But Darley, which sits about nine miles north-west of Harrogate and enjoys glorious views across Nidderdale, is anything but sleepy and, just a year after the last village shop shut, residents have opened a bigger, better store complete with a café, post office and a picturesque children’s play area. The fact that it also has one of the best views of any shop in North Yorkshire is quite a coup too.
But let’s turn the clock back for a moment to when the people who ran the old village shop – a family who’d sought refuge from the troubles in Iraq ten years’ earlier – decided to return home to western Asia.
‘They tried to sell the lease but there were no takers,’ said Helen Flynn, a villager, former councillor and leading light on the committee behind the new shop-cum-café-cum-post office. ‘There was a time when we had several shops in Darley – a butcher, baker, that sort of thing – but this was the last commercial property in the village.
‘We have a school, two churches and a pub, and we also have the largest concentration of social housing in the dale, with lots of elderly residents whose trips to the village shop might be their only social interaction of the day. It was a problem and we, quite simply, had to solve it.’
Helen put the word out through the village newsletter, which she writes, and was part of an informal group that set up an open meeting for people to share their ideas.
- 1 Win a diamond ring worth £1,000
- 2 Win a watercolour painting of Gosfield by artist James Merriott
- 3 6 waterfall walks in Derbyshire and the Peak District
- 4 Photography focus: 5 stunning Yorkshire Dales landscapes
- 5 Recipe: Make our peanut caramel poke cake
- 6 Afternoon tea deliveries in the Cotswolds
- 7 From The Dig to Harry Potter - 5 films shot in Suffolk
- 8 6 great woodland walks in the Peak District
- 9 Win a short break at Landal Darwin Forest
- 10 Hideen gems in the Peak District - Noon Stones circle, Birchover Triangle, Bleaklow Head
After much discussion, they decided to repurpose one of the community’s existing assets. They looked at the memorial hall, the churches and the pub but, in the end, the playing fields pavilion was the most viable option.
‘It was the perfect win-win,’ said Helen. ‘It was relatively underused and in need of a bit of TLC but, with a bit of work, we’d have a venue for our shop and Darley Playing Fields Association would have a valuable new income stream.’
The villagers gave the plan their wholehearted support. A few weeks later, however, they were forced to put their money where their mouth is when it was revealed that the entire pavilion roof needed replacing.
‘We thought we were sunk, but then we decided to ask the parish council to raise the precept – just for one year – to cover the cost,’ said Helen. ‘With everyone in the parish paying an additional small amount, we managed to get the job done.’
More fundraising events were organised and official funding bids were lodged with all manner of grant-providers, including Knabs Ridge Wind Farm Fund and North Yorkshire County Council’s Stronger Communities Fund, which donated £10,000 for a new kitchen on the proviso that hot meals were provided for local elderly people.
In all, around £60,000 was raised and immediately invested in creating a well-stocked shop, a compact café and much-needed post office – all successfully up-and-running in double-quick time.
In a pioneering and distinctly business-savvy move, the villagers decided not to run their new community venture on a voluntary rota basis, opting instead for a sustainable, hybrid model.
‘The community owns the building and the infrastructure but got in someone else – a proper business professional – to run the shop, café and post office,’ Helen explained.
Steve Willis is that ‘proper professional’, having already proved his credentials by running Pannal village shop alongside his successful fruit and veg business, Crimple Valley Fresh.
‘He knows the area really well, and he just gets it,’ said Helen. ‘It’s a good business opportunity for him because the rent is nothing for the first six months and very little for the rest of the year, and it’s good for us because we get a professionally-run village shop that’s open from 8am-7pm.’
There are two full-time members of staff plus a number of part-timers – ‘employment in the dale is decreasing so we’re going against the trend’ – and visitor numbers are already being boosted as walkers, cyclists and tourists following the nearby Nidderdale Way are discovering the snacktastic offers in the shop and café.
But, perhaps most importantly of all, it’s proving a big hit with locals who are all too aware that they’ll lose it if they don’t use it.
‘It’s fast becoming something of a social hub,’ said shop, café and post office manager Mark Heald-Smith. ‘People pop in for a pint of milk, bump into a friend and end up staying for lunch.
‘We’ve also noticed a lot more children making use of the park because their parents can pop in here for a coffee while they play safely.’
A lot has been achieved in a ridiculously short amount of time. As a result, Darley’s can-do approach is now attracting a lot of positive attention.
‘Some grant funders are now citing us as a model,’ said Helen. ‘And what we have achieved here could soon be used as a template by other communities who want to repurpose one of their old buildings.’
Which just goes to prove that when people work together, amazing things can really happen.