Express & Star

How a village's community store continues to help locals and make them feel welcome

Benedict Ferraby finds out how a long-standing project continues to draw in people after four years, and the lengths gone to to make customers welcome.


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For several years friends Lisa Wilson and Vicky Davies have been working together to help people in their area buy their weekly essentials.

They're from Heath Hayes, a village proud of its community spirit, a quality which has been an embodiment of this particular area for decades upon decades, harking back to when the local mining industry was at its most prominent.

Whilst generations have passed since then, such determination to serve the community from those in a position to do so hasn’t been lost.

One place which showcases these traits is the Community Store based at the Five Ways Inn pub.

The shop launched in October 2022, and helps scores of people with subsidised food.

Almost 18 months on, and with my parents often frequenting the store of late, what better opportunity to see how things have progressed since?

Current numbers within the community shop

The store remains open on Saturday and Tuesday mornings. Of its 2,000 members, around 50-60 turn up. Memberships for the store are currently capped at £3 per year.

Vicky spoke about the wide-ranging target audience the store has been able to attract.

“As far as the demographic goes we really are reaching out to all walks of life and every age, but we do find the majority of our members are from the working community," she said. "These people have not had any government help with bills, benefits etc during the cost of living crisis, but of course have carried on working without pay rises trying to make ends meet with increased bills and debt from massive mortgage hikes.”

Prior to my visit, I was able to grasp an even greater sense of pride for this project, which was born out of a similar concept in the Covid pandemic, when the duo set up a “Free Food Table” once gatherings were deemed safe again, in order to help those who were furloughed during lockdowns.

Whilst numbers on this initial project dwindled, Lisa came up with the idea of the store, which has since been funded through the National Lottery.

They project has since been recognised by the National Lottery, which funds the initiative

What is the environment like for those who utilise the facility?

The shop has dozens of locals visit each week

When visiting on a Saturday morning, I was able to grasp a first-hand perspective on just how hard the duo have worked to put the initiative into practice.

Queues are often at their greatest at the opening time of 10am, but even by the time of my arrival later in the morning, there was still a warming atmosphere about the pub car park.

Vicky also referred to the atmosphere both her and Lisa have generated for first-time visitors who may feel apprehensive or have a sense of embarrassment.

“When new people arrive at the store we try in the first instance to keep the atmosphere light hearted and fun, with Lisa and I having friendly banter between ourselves, we can be like a double act at times," she explained

“If we see anyone who is really nervous, upset or embarrassed we try hard to make them feel welcome and at ease and that they’re not alone.

“Other members who may be in the queue and have been before are brilliant and always chatting keeping the situation as friendly as possible. We reassure them that they are helping the store as much as we are helping them and usually by the time they leave they are smiling and a lot more relaxed.”

The shop also relies on local volunteers, and one of those is also a secondary school student looking to complete their Gold level Duke of Edinburgh Award. Lucy, who is also a local councillor, stated just how good it is that people in such situations are able to play their part in proceedings, aiding her busy schedule.

“It’s great that we can have somebody who is looking to fulfil their Duke of Edinburgh award by volunteering at the store,” she said.

Leanne is one of those volunteers, and she gave me her perspective on just how important schemes like this are for the Heath Hayes community.

“This shop is essential for the local community,” she began.

Lisa and Vicky's’ project has been recognised by the National Lottery, which funds the initiative

“It started up during lockdown, because there are families out there who don’t want handouts, but they still find it a bit of a struggle. So having this, and we’ve created as much of a shop atmosphere as possible – they can come along, get their essentials but are still able to pay for it and there’s no embarrassment in getting their weekly supplies at a good price.

I also got a sense that the scheme has progressed rather well over the past eighteen months.

“Numbers are rising all of the time. Each week we’re seeing new members joining,” they added.

“They’re joining out of a community of around 8,000 people!”

In truth, not only does this scheme help those who require it the most amid the ongoing struggles presented by the cost-of-living crisis, but it helps locals save money on similar produce that could cost double the price in popular retailers.

Vicky also spoke about the process that goes on when securing such goods, making sure that hygiene standards are a top priority.

“Our shop tries to cover all the basic essentials food and hygiene wise but we find that the staples which are, tinned foods, pasta, rice, fresh fruit & vegetables and meat are the most in demand products, closely followed by breakfast cereal, tea, coffee and of course washing powder, and self-hygiene products. We try our best to make sure we have a selection of all of these groups for each session, but of course sometimes supplies are hard to come by."

She concluded: “Without the help from Fareshare Midlands and Tesco Hawks Green we would struggle to keep our shelves topped up.”

The shop also stops such produce from going to waste, emphasising not only the socio-economic benefits, but the positive work done to help the general environment.

You can find more information about the Heath Hayes Community Store on Facebook.