Village Meeting Notes – 22nd February

22nd February, Village Hall (Notes taken by Susan Davis and Nicki Donne)

Introduction:
Yasemin Olcay, owner of the property, the Village Pantry business and PO officer distributed a written summary statement outlining the immediate need for a solution to retain the Village shop and Post Office for the village, given her need to sell the premises urgently. She stated the growth of the business over the last 6 years both in footfall and expansion of the services offered. The site has become a true hub for the village and there is a groundswell of concern about new ownership which could put this at risk.

The meeting was organized to discuss ideas and options for safeguarding the Village shop and PO from interested parties in the village. Diane Bohm, Parish Council Chair, was asked to moderate the discussion. A brief agenda was provided for the meeting.

Tony Henman made a statement in which he emphasized the value of the shop and PO to villagers, particularly in the acute COVID pandemic stages and the lockdown, led and tirelessly driven by Yasemin and her team. He illustrated the ability of our community to
work together to find solutions which can protect our village integrity and community (e.g. overturning the Weston-Otmoor development in 2007) and urged the village to act again to find a way to retain the existing services currently provided by the shop and PO, not the least because loss of either or both would have serious consequences for village sustainability and possibly house prices. He suggested a committee be formed to tackle this task urgently.

David Sweetnam also highlighted the value of the community and our ability, if there is the enthusiasm to do so, to take joint action. The possible outcomes of the sale of the property were outlined, including the risk of the shop site being converted to private accommodation with the consequent loss of the shop/PO site to the village. As the sale price is £600K and there may be the possibility of matched funding from other sources, it was proposed that the
village would jointly need to raise around £300K to purchase the property and business as a going concern. A business model for running the business as a community initiative would need to be developed and he suggested that this might include voluntary work from people who were prepared to give selflessly to make this work.

Jack Maxton described his experiences from living in two other villages with similar issues. In the first example, a community village shop was financed by issuing shares to each villager at a cost of £500 each, with the additional obligation of offering 8 hours of voluntary
work in the shop.

In the second example, the village undertook fundraising for a sum of £50K to which matched funding from the Plunkett Foundation would be added to support the establishment of a shop. However, premises were difficult to secure and the final solution was to repurpose a committee room in the Village Hall to house the shop.

Vision for the future:
The discussion was opened up to the meeting attendees and the following points were made:
• The importance of a central site in the village for the shop/PO to support social networking and to attract passing trade
• Connect with close villages of Kirtlington and Bletchingdon to see where we could work together.

Fundraising:
Site is for sale at £600K – village will need to raise at least £300K and apply for funding through the Community Ownership Fund (£280K max available) or the Plunkett Foundation (£250K).
Others suggested approaching businesses in the parish for financial support (e.g. the Manor Hotel and other businesses).
External investors might also be approached.
The flat above the shop could provide a supporting revenue if let out.
Consider if a commercial loan could be possible.

Ben Johnson
The intersection between the sale/purchase of the Ben Jonson Pub (also priced at £600K) and the Village shop/PO was discussed. The pub purchase was being pursued by a consortium of villagers and David Cole summarized the current status. Negotiations with the Pub owners (Punch Taverns) had stalled, despite them having secured financial pledges towards the purchase. The possibility of integrating these two aims to purchase the pub and retain the village shop/PO by moving it to the pub site on Northampton Road was raised. Yasemin confirmed that the PO could retain its community status if it was moved to a different site within the village (in the case that the original site was lost).

Arguments against this were:
• The pub sale is uncertain even if sufficient funds are secured
• The pub building is Grade II listed and in a poor state of repair and there could be significant costs to establish the space for the shop and PO on the site
• the pub site is not as central to the village
• The pub site may not attract so much passing trade, at least in the short term

Arguments in support:
• The pub is a significant social resource and both pub and shop/PO could support each other
• More space and parking available on the pub site with more development possibilities

Next steps:

  1. Establish a steering group – Wendy Williams to collect names of interested parties
  2. Establish the timeframe for purchase of the shop/raising funds
  3. Establish skills in the village which could help broker a decision
  4. Draft a feasibility study, including a survey of the village for views on options.

Next meeting: 27th February 7.00pm Village Hall.

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