The British Beer and Pub Association reports (here) that 900 pubs closed in the last year. The village pub, school and shop/Post office between them form, if you will, a Holy Trinity of ‘village life’*. Both the Telegraph and Daily Mail link pubs and shops in their coverage. Empty former shops are a common sight in my bit of Norfolk, and it’s sad to think the pub might go the same way. Of course the lack of a village shop doesn’t instantly make a village un-inhabitable, and it’s important not to over-romanticise this issue. The reason shops have closed is because most of us prefer the range of goods, the price and convenience of the super-market. (Come on; it really is).
Having said that, the growing phenomenon of community run shops shows an alternative way of re-instating the social function of shop without, perhaps, the profit margin that made it a viable lifestyle choice for its previous owners.
Giving a ‘warts-and-all’ guided tour of Norwich and Norfolk vernacular to a developer up from London a couple of weeks ago, we stopped in at Thorpe Marriott, a 2,000-home ‘new village’ built by Bovis, Beazer and Wimpey from 1986 onwards. It does have a local centre – comprising a pub (the Otter) a small supermarket, a chip-shop, a Chinese take-away, an estate agents and a community hall. A local centre certainly, but a heart? Certainly a tiny heart for such a big beast. And that’s not necessarily a problem. On the same guided tour we also paused in several Norfolk villages that had no facilities whatsoever; such settlements, built up almost exclusively during the C20th with no discernable centre, are very common (almost typical in fact), and are no doubt perfectly pleasant places to live for many.
None-the-less, most of us can’t help feeling that villages ought to be ‘thriving’, to have an identifiable ‘centre’; no doubt many Community Right to Build projects will have this aspiration at their heart.
*Ironic that I missed the Church out of that analogy! No offence…