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Would you please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your shop?

Hello, my name is Dave Sheppard, and I am the Vice Chairman for The Ashton Keynes Village Shop Association Limited, which I have been for over 10 years. Our shop is a community-run essential business; we are here for the residents of Ashton Keynes.

Tell me how a trip to the pub ended up with you overseeing the local shop?

Yes, well, it all started one evening in February 2010. I was in The White Hart pub chatting to the then Chairman of the Parish Council about the recent news about the closure of the local shop. We discussed what impact this would have on the village and where the locals would have to travel to get essential items. A few beers in, we both agreed that the village needed a shop without question. After a couple more beers, I volunteered to be the one to resolve this issue. It had now become my mission to save the village shop.

Why did it mean so much to have a shop in the village?

The shop is the cornerstone of village life, especially for the elderly residents. It is a lifeline for them. Often, they would come in just for a chat and not actually buy anything. We were afraid that if people became used to travelling further afield to shop, they wouldn’t actually use the local shop if one was to re-open again. Business continuity was therefore a key aspect; we had to ensure that there was always a village shop to keep that essential part of the community spirit going.

Time was ticking as the current shop owners were retiring and were due to close the Beaconsfield store by the end of August 2010, so I needed to act fast if the shop was to continue.

Did you manage to keep the shop open in time?

We did, just. After three months of going down dead-end roads and losing hope. I reached out to a fantastic organisation called Plunkett through the Rural Community Council. Plunkett helps community shops and pubs to start up or remain open; they helped us with permissions, forms, funding etc. They also told us we had to get buy-in from the local community as this would be considered a community project and business. We had over 100 residents attend the first meeting at the village hall, the majority of whom favoured the community shop. So, after a long road and many obstacles, we opened as the Ashton Keynes Village Shop on Wednesday 1st September 2010, operating initially from the old Beaconsfield Stores premises and then from our brand-new building in the grounds of the village hall, which we moved to in December 2011.

Is the shop still a significant part of village life?

Absolutely, as I said before, it is a lifeline for our villagers. This became very apparent in the first lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was a demand for essential items and people needed to shop locally.

We are on first-name terms with practically everyone who comes in. Our village is a real mix of people of all ages; the shop has become more of a hub for people to come and chat than just somewhere to do their shopping. It gives a real sense of community, especially for new members of the village; it also gives added purpose to the people who volunteer to work in the shop alongside our full-time manager and part-time staff.

When did you first hear about The Retail Mutual?

We first heard about The Retail Mutual when we were looking for business insurance. Obviously, as a shop, we needed to make sure we were covered in case of a public liability claim and that our stock and contents were properly protected. We also knew we needed employers’ liability cover in place even though our staff are mainly volunteers. It was actually Plunkett who recommended The Retail Mutual. I think the thing that intrigued us most was the fact that you are not an insurance provider but a mutual that offers covers to many businesses like ours.

Your ethos and the fact that you don’t have any shareholders to answer to swung it for us. It reminded us of ourselves and why we started the village shop in the first place, with everybody coming together to help and support one another for the greater good. Plus, your quote was pretty reasonable. We have been impressed with the service you have provided, and we have been with you ever since.

I see you had to claim for a theft. Would you mind telling us about it?

Unfortunately, yes, we did. In November 2020 at about 7.30 pm, the alarm at the shop had been triggered so a few of the shop committee members went down to take a look. They didn’t notice any signs of a break-in and put it down to spiders in the sensors (which has happened before). When they tried to reset the alarm, it came up with an error message saying faulty; they reset the alarm as best they could and headed home.

Unbeknown to them, the alarm had been deliberately tampered with. The outside system had been broken with a broom handle that was still causing the fault. This is what initially triggered the alarm and broke the siren but as it was dark, they hadn’t noticed the damage. We believe the thieves had been watching the shop and waiting for everyone to leave. Once the coast was clear, they headed back to it, managed to kick in the bottom panel of the main door, squeezed in, then disabled the emergency light inside the shop so they wouldn’t attract any attention; they did this by ripping it off the ceiling. This gave them plenty of time to go about their business of stealing all our cigarette and tobacco stock, which was worth £3,836. They then managed to prise open a hefty steel door to the back office, which contained a large safe and a small day safe with two days’ worth of takings; they didn’t bother with the larger safe but took the small day safe with them, which had in it £1,484.

How did you feel the next day when you found out what had actually happened?

To be honest, heartbroken, the shop is our baby; we have put so much hard work and commitment into it. We have been dedicated to keeping it going, especially during the pandemic. It felt like a personal attack.

It’s the frustration of it all, especially with the amount of damage caused. It’s the annoyance of having to replace the alarm system, the steel door and tidy everything up, but you guys were fabulous with getting everything replaced; I think the money for the door was in our account before they had even fitted the new one. The thing that impresses me the most about The Retail Mutual is how responsive and helpful you all are. Typically, with insurance providers, the default answer is “no”, but with you guys it’s “let’s see what we can do to help.”

It is safe to say you would recommend The Retail Mutual?

Yes, as an organisation and as cover providers, you guys are brilliant. I have in fact recommended you to several other shops and other Plunkett members. I genuinely can’t see us moving our shop cover to an insurance provider, mainly because our shop committee is just so impressed with how reasonably priced you are for such a responsive service.

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