THE 300th community-owned shop has opened, marking a significant increase in community-owned rural services across the UK.
Cobham Community Shop opened its doors last month in Kent, representing a thriving sector which continues to buck national trends of decline.
The small rural village had been struggling without a shop for a year and half before villagers decided to take matters into their own hands.
After forming a committee and raising £33,000 through grants, loans and donations, the project now boasts 107 shareholders and volunteer bank of over 60 people.
Although the first community-owned shop opened its doors in 1867 in Yorkshire, it wasn't until the early 1980s that community ownership began to take off.
Today, it is seen as a solution to the problems faced by rural communities such as physical and social isolation and lack of essential services.
But in 1992 in Halstock, Dorset, the tide began to turn with the establishment of Halstock Community Shop and an advisory service for communities wishing to do the same.
Since then, the past 25 years have seen an explosion in community shops, with only 13 ever closing – giving them around a 97% success rate.
Peter Couchman, chief executive of the Plunkett Foundation, the national body supporting community-owned shops, said: "Community ownership works.
"It works in a variety of different communities because it puts the people affected by a problem in charge of solving it.
"It uses enterprise – often the most effective way of providing a sustainable solution – and it ensures that the enterprise is owned and run locally for the benefit of the whole community."
It was vital that rural communities continued to receive the support they needed to take control of the issues affecting them through community enterprise, said Mr Couchman.
Defra secretary Owen Paterson said: "It is great to see the opening of the 300th community owned shop in Cobham and I wish it every success.
"The village shop is often the very heart of the community and this achievement shows the sense of spirit which keeps our rural economies strong and striving for success.
"We know there are particular challenges to running a business in a remote area and we are doing all we can by investing £165million in growing the rural economy."
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