How the local community was united by the Wigginton Village Shop and Café
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 April 2020
When three people came together with a vision to restore a shop and café to their village, it sparked a collective effort that continues to unite the community.
On a chilly day in February I climbed the steep hill out of Tring to reach the hilltop village of Wigginton. I was on my way to visit the community owned and managed Wigginton Village Shop and Café, recipient of the Business in the Community award in the Campaign to Protect Rural England Hertfordshire’s 2019 Rural Living Awards. This award is for a business which has made an outstanding contribution to rural community life. When I arrived the café was filled with the buzz of conversation, and the shop was doing a brisk trade too.
Back in 2016 the idea for the shop and café was just a dream, but thanks to the hard work of a sizeable group of villagers, the dream became reality in December 2018. One of the key people who gave themselves the task of setting up the new venture was Rebecca Fleckney, who moved to the village in 2016 and found that the previous village shop had closed more than 10 years earlier.
This area in the Chilterns is the highest in Hertfordshire. Wigginton lies at around 730 feet above sea level, while the county’s highest point at just over 800 feet is a mile and a half away near the hamlet of Hastoe. Snow is more frequent here and lies longer. When this happens the hill down to Tring only a mile or so away becomes a barrier. So the loss of the earlier shop must have been a blow, especially for those without access to a car. Buses do serve the village but only infrequently.
I was welcomed to the shop by Deborah Simcock, who joined Rebecca and another campaigner, Simon Crichton, in the initial stages of formulating a plan to bring a shop – and community hub – back to the village. A site on the sports field was found and there was strong local support for the project. A Community Benefits Society was set up, with advice from the rural community business support group, the Plunkett Foundation, and fundraising began. Villagers bought shares in the enterprise which raised nearly £90,000, and with other funding in place it was time to start building.
Throughout this process the volunteer team grew massively to bring in all the skills needed for this undertaking and to run the shop. A big step was the appointment of a paid full-time manager, Sally Clarke, who also greeted me as I arrived.
We were joined by a few of the 80 or so volunteers who now help to run the enterprise. Many work shifts in the shop and café, while others take on tasks like book keeping. The youngest are students completing the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the eldest is 86. In the first year the volunteers clocked up 9,000 hours. They are encouraged to work towards City and Guilds qualifications and students come in for work experience as well as weekend and holiday jobs.
Over coffee we talked about the range of produce sold in the shop and café. An underlying ethos is for products to be local, with 68 per cent sourced within 30 miles. Some products come from the village, including mouth-watering cakes, and beer from the micro-brewery nearby. There are lots of non-food items too, including jewellery and needlework.
The shop provides an outlet for start-ups not yet big enough for the supermarkets. I took home a selection including delicious raspberry jam, venison salami and some beautiful greetings cards produced by botanical artist and RHS medallist Nicki Tullett, who lives in a neighbouring hilltop village.
The café helps to make this building a thriving community hub. The volunteers I met, and those featured in a video on the shop’s website, all enthused about the difference it has made – as a meeting place and a space for community activities where neighbours can meet and become friends. It has become a destination too. I chatted to two regular visitors enjoying lunch, who had walked up the hill from Tring through Tring Park, and two others from much further away. The shop and café has welcomed walkers, cyclists, horse riders and runners. The nearby children’s playground was updated last year – another attraction bringing in new customers.
In its first year, as well as the CPRE award, the shop and café picked up the 2019 Best Newcomer Award in the SME Hertfordshire Business Awards. Both awards are proudly on display in the shop and clearly mean a great deal to all those involved in this community enterprise. Other CPRE Rural Living Award recipients have said how much the recognition has boosted their projects.
As well as the CPRE Herts business award there is an environment award, a community award for groups and two awards for individuals. All recognise exceptional people who do great voluntary work, improving the environment and making life better for residents and visitors to our lovely county.
Since the awards scheme began in 2013 nominations have been received for a wide range of activities and individuals. As well as recognising these achievements, CPRE also hopes to spread the word and encourage other groups and communities to embark on their own projects.
Nominations are now open for the 2020 awards (now called the CPRE Hertfordshire Awards). Visit cpreherts.org.uk for more information. The closing date for nominations is May 31.
CPRE is grateful for the support the awards receive from Hertfordshire Life and Hertfordshire County Council which supports the awards presentation evening. Alongside the awards, the annual CPRE Hertfordshire children’s art competition encourages young people to appreciate the natural world through art. Entries are invited from primary schools throughout the county – the website has more details.
Visiting Wigginton Village Shop & Café
The shop and café are open every day – see the website, wiggintonshop.org.uk for opening times. Wigginton is located just over a mile to the south of Tring, off the A41. It is one and a half miles from Tring station (trains from Euston) and linked by the Ridgeway National Trail. From the Ridgeway there are extensive views towards the Ashridge estate and Ivinghoe hills. Wigginton adjoins Tring Park (managed by the Woodland Trust) where there are numerous paths, and there is a particularly fine view from the route of the Ridgeway high above the park. Buses run to Wigginton from Tring every two hours in the daytime (not Sundays or public holidays), a Red Rose Travel service. However you travel there, you can be assured of a warm welcome.
The coronavirus has meant the shop and cafe plays an even more integral role in the local community. Read more about their activity here.