Villagers' five-a-week promise to save Efail Isaf store

By Matt Lloyd
BBC Wales

image copyrightPobl Isaf
image captionVillagers raise their hands in support of the five-a-week pledge

When residents in a Welsh village heard their local shop could close, they feared they would lose a "lifeline".

Like so many small communities, residents of Efail Isaf, Rhondda Cynon Taff, faced the prospect of the Post Office and shop closing.

But they were determined to save a "key ingredient" to village life and came up with a novel five-a-week pledge.

So far it is working, as they aim to show people power can help a small business survive the supermarkets.

Owners Vijayananth and Sasi Jaganathan had to reduce the opening hours of Efail Isaf Stores to reduce their losses.

With people increasingly turning their back on the local shop in favour of larger supermarkets, the writing looked to be on the wall for family-owned business.

media captionVillage shop "a lifeline"

Some elderly villagers were in tears at the prospect of not having a shop within walking distance.

That prompted Vicki Worsley and other neighbours to take action and fight the corner of their corner shop.

Not content with just urging people to change their shopping habits, they asked villagers to sign a promise to buy at least five items from the local store every week.

"I knew the shop was struggling and I was very concerned," said Ms Worsley.

"It's so easy to just go to the supermarket but the shop owners have shown a commitment to the village, so we should make a commitment to them to buy a few items.

"Village shops and post offices are precious to the community and a lifeline for the elderly or those without cars. If it went, we would all regret it."

More than 70 villagers immediately signed up to the pledge, with more joining the campaign.

image captionCampaigner Ms Worsley said the local shop is a "lifeline" to many in the village

Among those is Graham Tierney, who admits he is amazed how quickly the idea has caught on.

"It's gone viral. Everybody is doing it, it's on the local Facebook page and it's working," he said.

"We need the shop. Along with the pub, it's the centre of the village. They're facing a problem but as a community, we should be able to help."

Joan Smith has lived in Efail Isaf for 46 years. She said: "It's not just a shop but somewhere you come and meet people and chat. It's part of village life."

Local stores also play an important economic role to small towns and villages in Wales, according to report by the Association of Convenience Stores, due to be published next week.

'Heart of community'

It will state that almost 3,000 shops provide almost 23,000 local jobs, while consumers voted Post offices and convenience stores as the services that have the 'most positive impact' on their local area.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said the sector was still facing "significant challenges".

But he added: "Local shops are essential to communities across Wales, especially in rural and isolated areas where other businesses like banks and specialist stores have been shutting up shop.

"As these other businesses have left, local shops have been increasing the services they offer, which further cements their role at the heart of local communities."

image captionElderly villagers would be "lost" without the shop

Vijayananth and Sasi Jaganathan have begun consulting with residents over what day-to-day items to stock.

They are even prepared to accept small losses if it means staying open for elderly customers.

"When I said we may have to close, some of the older customers were in tears," said Mr Jaganathan.

"They don't know what they would do, even for a newspaper of pint of milk. They would suffer.

"It's for these people we want to stay open, even if we make a small loss. We want to stay open for them."

The innovative scheme is attracting plenty of attention. Sara Jones, head of the Welsh Retail Consortium, said: "It's always great to see communities rallying round their local stores.

"Given that Welsh retail has struggled over Christmas, with one in eight shops standing empty, innovative local campaigns to support our high streets should be welcomed."

From Monday, the shop will be open again each evening until 19:30 and the owner will decide in April whether or not they can carry on.

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