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Keeping the tills ringing

Cobham in Kent is a small village with 172 households, three pubs, a village store and a huge amount of community spirit.

Indeed, it was down to the efforts of villagers themselves that the local shop, which originally opened in 1862, is still going strong today. Several years ago it was threatened with conversion to flats, which was when the community stepped in.  

“Local people wanted to keep a shop in the village,” explained Dave Freeman, who works in the shop one morning a week. “The nearest town is Gravesend, about five miles away, and all we have in between here and there is a supermarket on the A2. 

“Directly opposite the shop are a number of old alms houses with elderly residents, and the shop is a lifeline for them. It’s a vital community asset and the people of Cobham were determined to keep it.”

The community got together to object to the plans and raised petitions against redevelopment. They organised themselves into a Community Interest Company (CIC) in November 2012 and raised over £80,000 to get the shop off the ground, including a substantial amount from the National Lottery.

There are two directors of the company and several residents own a £10 share in the business. There is a part-time paid manager and a couple of part-time assistants who open up to sort the papers, but the 20-25 volunteers, including Dave, are the backbone of the venture.

The volunteers are mainly retired or part-time working people who help keep the shop open seven days a week. The shops tries to stock as much local produce as possible, including meat from a local farm, fruit and vegetables, locally-made cakes and local crafts, leather goods and jewellery. 

The shop plays a key role in the community, taking part in the village fête and getting involved with local schools. They act as a local focal point for several charity appeals, and helped to raise funds for an elderly village resident, an ex-RAF man in his 90's, to fly in a Spitfire from Biggin Hill Airport.

Cobham Community Stores has been a Phone Co-op customer for telephone and broadband from the early days of the CIC, having been recommended by the Plunkett Foundation, which gave early advice on setting up and running the shop.

“We need good, reliable broadband for our till and card reader,” said Dave. “It’s been ideal for us: a good service and never any problems.”