SHOPS owned and run by local communities reduce rural isolation, says a study by a leading charity.
The Plunkett Foundation report examining the role of community shops in reducing isolation was launched on Friday (22 March).
The study, commissioned by the Co-operative Group Central & Eastern Region, outlines the facets of rural isolation and illustrates ways that community shops are reducing it.
"Community shops are providing access to essential goods and services in areas where there is no alternative supply," says the document.
While this is benefits all residents, such services are of particular benefit to the elderly, those with poor health, and those without access to transport, it adds.
"Reducing the need for residents to travel and preventing many from having to move out of the village completely, community shops are, therefore, demonstrably tackling physical isolation."
The study also looks at ways community shops address social isolation by stimulating community and social activity.
"Regardless of the products and services sold in these shops, for example, they act as a community hub - they involve large numbers of people and rely on the interaction between those people."
The opportunities this creates illustrates clear and visible benefits to the most vulnerable and less advantaged in the community, says the report.
These people include the elderly, those who live alone, those on lower incomes, those in poor health, or suffering bereavement, it adds.
"For them, the shop offered a place to work, a place to drop in for a chat, a place to volunteer.
"It also provided a place to meet new people, make friends, learn new skills, get involved and be part of something worthwhile, increasing their self esteem."
The report also identifies a broader range of people whose lives have been improved by the shop as a result of meeting new people, and becoming more involved in community life.
"This shows how the shops are also preventing isolation as well as actively reducing it," the study concludes.
The report includes case studies from community-owned shops in central and eastern England, including North Marston (Buckinghamshire), Feckenham (Worcestershire), and Cottingham (Northamptonshire).
Representatives from rural shops attended the launch at a special Talking Shop event held in Towcester.
The full document can be downloaded here.
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