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December 5, 2012

Much more than a shop

The village of Barr sits high in the Southern Uplands, eight miles from the nearest town.  With no public transport, for many of the elderly and vulnerable members of the community that eight miles might as well be eighty. The local shop and post office provides a crucial lifeline, acting as the hub for an informal network of care that extends to the community’s most vulnerable members.   Always a marginal business, the owners eventually called it a day – leaving the community with few options.


Barr is a small community of around 250 people sitting high in the Southern Uplands of Scotland, approximately eight miles from the nearest sizeable centre of population.  Because of the very isolated nature of the village, it has always had to rely heavily on local, rather than passing trade to maintain viability.  In 2011, the owners of the village shop/PO decided that they were unable to make a decent living from it and put it on the market.  After six months with only minimal interest and no sensible offers brought to the table, the owners were prepared to close the shop and use the premises for other purposes.  This would have meant that the nearest shops would have involved a round trip of 17+ miles.  The nearest superstores in Ayr and Prestwick would mean a round trip of 53 – 58 miles.

Retaining the shop and post office was seen as essential to the community spirit of the village.  For many, especially those without transport (and there is no public transport to Barr), the shop is a meeting place, a social hub, a communication centre and also a major part of the network caring for the oldest and most vulnerable in the village as well as a source of groceries and stamps.  The Community Council asked Hadyard Hill Community Benefit Fund’s Village Development Worker Catriona Haston to conduct a survey of the residents and two public meetings to ascertain the level of interest in retaining the shop/post office and whether there was any interest in the community taking over the shop/post office.  The result was overwhelmingly in favour.   A considerable number of people also indicated their willingness to help out with fundraising and volunteering and a steering group was set up, which ultimately became the nucleus of BSSG Ltd, which runs the new community shop.
Following a successful grant application to Hadyard Hill Community Benefit Fund, the shop opened on July 1st 2012 in the old shop premises which are leased from the previous owners.  Due to a number of factors, not least of which was the time scale involved, the committee opted for the legal form of a Company Limited by Guarantee.   The shop now employs two part-time managers, Judy Brzezinka and Mike Ross who run the place with the help of a team of volunteers.  Getting the sub post office up and running was a lot harder, as anyone who has done it will know, but that is also now (finally!) in place.  The shop sells a very wide range of groceries, alcohol, hardware, luxury and craft items and has plans to offer a number of extra services to the community.  Local produce and products feature strongly.  The takings are going up month on month and the shop is now about to undergo some reconstruction in order to create a small kitchen and café area.  As local councillor Alec Oattes puts it: “The future looks rosy for Barr shop with such a dedicated group of people determined to ensure its success”.