March 2005 saw the closure of the general stores and newsagent that had served the village for many years under the management of Mr Derek Nutt and before him Mr Kitchin. One of the main factors behind the shop’s closure was the uncertainty over the lease and the future of the site, whose new owners had obtained planning permission to demolish the existing structure and build a block of flats.
Demolition work began in July 2005. However, planning permission was conditional upon maintaining a shop premises and so the new development by Cranborne Homes duly contained a retail unit on the ground floor, which was put up for sale on its completion in spring 2006.
Efforts by the Parish Council to find a business or chain willing to take on the retail unit were unsuccessful and, in May 2006, the council circulated a questionnaire to all residents seeking their views on the possibility of operating a community shop in the village. The findings were presented at a public meeting in June 2006 which saw the setting up of the Radley Village Shop Working Group under the auspices of the Parish Council to look at proposals to establish a new community shop in Radley – either in the new retail unit or elsewhere. In their research, the Working Group received much support and guidance from Jane Barker and others at the Oxfordshire Rural Community Council (now Community First Oxfordshire).
The Working Group reported back to the village on its work through the Radley News and at a second public meeting attended by about 90 villagers in October 2006. Its efforts had included a survey into the level of interest in those willing to:
- support the venture by putting in money either as a donation or the purchase of shares
- help in some way such as serving in the shop or offering their time in some other way.
The survey also asked people what they would like a community shop to sell. The Working Group explained to those present at the meeting that:
- Funding would come from contributions (shares and donations) by Radley people together with grants and loans from organisations such as Oxfordshire Rural Community Council and the Village Retail Services Association.
- The share scheme would be for the benefit of the community as a whole and would give members the right to vote on important matters concerning the shop. Any surpluses made by the shop would be used for community-related projects.
- The survey produced almost 100 responses, raising commitments of almost £15,000, together with many offers of professional and practical help. Over 100 hours per week of shop assistance was offered, which would mean that all opening hours should be covered by at least one person – and hopefully in busy periods by two – in addition to the paid shop manager.
- A village resident who wished to remain anonymous had offered to acquire the freehold of the premises and lease them back to the village rent-free for the first three years (i.e. while the shop gets on its feet).
- The commitment to acquire the premises, together with the grants and loans available, meant that the target for the village was to raise £20,000.
The response from the villagers at the meeting was one of overwhelming enthusiasm, with an almost unanimous vote in favour of proceeding. This was followed by the setting up of a Management Committee led by Graham Steinsberg as chairman. The shop project was underway!
In January 2007 the Management Committee heard the good news that it had been successful in obtaining a grant of £20,000 from the Village Retail Services Association conditional on this being matched by donations and membership payments from the village.
Following confirmation of registration with the Financial Services Authority as a Community Co-operative under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts 1965-1978, the membership scheme was launched in February 2007. By this time, the purchase of the shop premises had been completed and plans were underway to convert the bare shell into a real shop.
The response to the letters about the membership scheme was immense with £20,000 being raised in a matter of weeks. Other offers of help (legal advice, rota management, project management of the shopfitting, book-keeping services, website design, etc) were also taken up.
The paid post of shop manager was advertised in the local press at the beginning of March 2007 when work to fit out the shop also began. The shop manager was appointed in April 2007 and began work on 1 May 2007.
The cost of fitting out and setting up the shop has been met by a grant of £20,000 from the Village Retail Services Association matched by generous donations and membership subscriptions from the village.
The shop opened on 22 May 2007. By November, turnover was approaching £4,000 per week and there was a healthy and active volunteer community with over 50 members. The shop made a surplus of almost £2,500 on sales of £120,000 in the first seven months of trading to 31 December 2007. At the first AGM held in May 2008, members decided to use the surplus for 2007 to further reduce the loan taken out to fund some of the start-up costs. Surplus profits from 2008 to 2010 were used to build up the reserves to meet the cost of equipment replacement in the future.
In February 2011, Radley Village Shop Association made a major step forward with the purchase of the lease of the shop premises. This was made possible with the help of a substantial grant from Southern Oxfordshire Leader (part of the Government’s Rural Development Programme for England administered by the South East England Development Agency).
The rest of the money was obtained with a mortgage from Co-operative and Community Finance and a contribution from the reserves. The purchase of the lease secured the future of the shop for the village of Radley.
In November 2017, Radley Village Shop Association used money from its reserves to pay off the outstanding balance on the mortgage taken out to buy the lease of the shop premises. The shop is now mortgage-free and the lease is completely owned on behalf of the community by Radley Village Shop Association.