Suffolk’s first community shop prepares to host a large gathering of supporters
Suffolk’s first community shop prepares to host a large gathering of supporters

A pioneering community shop founded by members of the Women’s Institute and run by over 100 volunteers is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a huge gathering of its supporters.

Polstead Community Shop near Hadleigh will mark this milestone on Saturday 13 July from 2pm-4pm.

Around 180 invitations have been sent to people who have been proven to be committed, and numerous former and current volunteers and board members are expected to attend the meeting.

The two founders of the shop, which began in a second-hand caravan in March 1984, were Polstead residents Ruth Crabtree and Erica Pomerans.

Maureen Howard, Anne MacWillson, Henrietta McRae and Amanda Ainsworth (Image: Charlotte Bond)

They were members of the Women’s Institute (WI) and came up with the idea of ​​opening a community shop in October 1983. They were inspired by a handful of community shops that had sprung up across England.

Suffolk ACRE – formerly the Rural Community Council for Suffolk – supported their efforts and within five months the village raised £2,000 through events, donations, trade bonds and loans from the council and charities.

A small piece of land was leased from the Riddleston family and trading began from the trailer that was donated to the cause.

(Image: Charlotte Bond)

In the early days, the store attracted interest from television and radio – and won numerous awards.

The business grew and led to the construction of a store in 1987 as part of the expansion of the community center. With the support of the company and volunteer workers, construction costs were kept low.

In 1999, the post office, which was originally located on the other side of the Green, moved to designated premises inside.

Both founders died last year, but their legacies live on. The store has seen ups and downs — but its fortunes picked up during the pandemic, which revived interest in shopping local.

(Image: Charlotte Bond)

Young people, including university students, joined the volunteer effort, which was hit particularly hard by the pandemic as some volunteers had to stay at home, and ensured that the shop remained open during the crisis.

It has become a meeting place where people can socialize safely outdoors while keeping their distance.

Maureen Howard sorts goods in the Polstead Community Shop (Image: Charlotte Bond)

Since then, the store has not looked back and many of the new customers have remained loyal.

Supporter Amanda Ainsworth said the aim of the small shop was to provide villagers with goods at reasonable prices – and to stock enough fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and meat, as well as pantry ingredients, to ensure shoppers could prepare themselves a good meal.

In response to demand, the store is now relying more on local suppliers and more environmentally friendly alternatives, she added.

(Image: Charlotte Bond)

“Customer reviews have been excellent and because we can serve coffee and tea as well as ice cream and cakes, the shop is also used by walkers and cyclists. Our lovely volunteers are constantly having to learn new skills for their two-and-a-half hour shifts,” she said.

The store has no paid employees and relies on its approximately 30 volunteers and a board of elected members to continue operating.

“To date, there are probably over 100 local people who have helped keep the shop open, and more are joining all the time as we always love meeting new volunteers who often find it a wonderful way to meet new people and keep in touch with old friends,” Amanda said.

“Our 40th anniversary is a great opportunity to look back and thank those who originally started the business and those who ensure it continues to thrive.”

Maureen Howard, Anne MacWillson, Henrietta McRae and Amanda Ainsworth (Image: Charlotte Bond)

By Isla