In the latest edition of the Weston-on-the-Green Village News, Weston SOS received three full pages of coverage – our own committee member Fiona Spensley provided a follow-up from our public consultation meeting in July and the current owner of the Weston Pantry also reported on the state of Post Offices closing across the country and the future of the Weston Pantry.
An update from Weston SOS on the future of the Weston Pantry
Fiona Spensley, Weston SOS committee member, writes:
Our last update, following the village meeting in July, was a plea for more commttee members. We are delighted to report an expanded committee with some valuable additional expertise on the business and financial side. We are delighted to have Linda, who brings a wealth of experience with the Post Office as a possible Postmistress. We now have four, and hopefully five new members in addition to the four from the initial committee, so we are again a viable group. It is great ot have the support of Amanda, who in addition to her business expertise, is able to represent the view from Middleton Stoney.
Forty-five percent of the survey returns were from surrounding villages, indicating the importance of the shop and post office beyond Weston. Incidentally, if you were not able to make the last village meeting you can find the slides with the summary survey results here.
As we outlined at the July Village meeting, our initial work was to identify the most viable option which was to establish a ‘Community Benefit Society’, which has been registered with the Financial Conduct Authority. We are continuing to work on the business plan to ensure that our plans for the shop and post office are financially viable. The plans include renovations to rent out the flat above the shop to increase the income. Sam, our Chair, is leading on the business plan with incredible energy and committment, and we are working with valuable support from Nathan Brown, a professional adviser paid for by a Government Community Ownership Fund support package which Sam secured.
The business plan is needed both to apply for a full grant from the Government Community Ownership Fund, of £250,000 and to gain the ‘Community Shares Standard Mark’ so that all of you who buy shares in the community shop and post-office can do so with confidence. We are grateful to those of you who have already completed the pledge forms (blanks are available from the village shop, but strictly confidential once completed).
Chicken and egg
We are in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation, in trying to assess how much money might be forthcoming for community shares. This clearly impacts on the business plan and how much we might need to borrow; we need a minimum of £100,000 from the community shares from Weston and beyond. A pledge is a little more commitment than any figure you might have indicated in the survey, as we are asking for your name and Sam will contact you when the shares are ready. However, a pledge is not yet an obligation to buy as you would clearly want to see the business plan and the formal share offer before you actually hand over any money.
The survey did not capture everyone in the village, but 60% of those responding to the question did express an interest in buying shares which we found encouraging. When we presented to the village in July, we had hoped we might be eligible for Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS) which gives generous tax relief; unfortunately, as we are taking over a business, we seem not to be eliglible.
For future presentation
Please watch out for the next village meeting, date to be announced, during which we will present the business plan and share offer. We are still interested in additional support, particularly with administration (minute-taking), media/public relations. Any comments, observations or suggestions for fund-raising gratefully received, please email or complete the form on our web-page. If you win the lottery, we’d be happy to hear from anyone who might buy the shop and lease it back to us!
So why are Post Offices Still Closing?
Over the last two years an average 5 post offices a week are closing, wrenching the heart out of communities. The Government has told the Post Office to bring the network back up to 11,500 branches.
Click the image below to view a larger version of the article in the Village News, written by the current owner of the Weston Pantry.
The SOS committee have done an amazing job so far working towards a solution to keep our Shop and PO for the community.
If you feel strongly about keeping the heart of the community ticking, the convenience of having the PO at your doorstep, protecting the value of your houses then SOS Needs You… Please don’t be complacent, once it’s gone, it’s gone and will never come back.
Please support SOS to keep it open.
Yasemin Olcay, current owner of the Weston Pantry.