Part 5-December 20th 2019 and onwards..

OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Friday 20th December, 2019

   
The village was delighted with the total transformation of the shop, now a lovely airy space, filled with light. The shop had become open plan from end-to-end, thus increasing the selling area and providing space for a wider range of products. Ventilation was greatly improved.  The Post Office remained largely as it was, due to contractual security requirements with Post Office Counters Ltd.  A new suite of high-efficiency refrigerated display units was installed; also a new shop counter area and shelving system.
Inevitably much remained to be done, and in the months to come all the shelving systems would be updated, and other exciting innovations were to be introduced, but more of that later. On day one it looked like this...


If it is in-stock you can see it!

Much greater display area!

Up-to-date refrigerated display cabinets

A large stock of greetings cards

'Fancy goods' is a popular innovation

Stationery stocks for school, home and office
Unfortunately the re-opening of Winsham Shop and Post Office came too too late to benefit from the substantial pre-Christmas trade that was enjoyed most years, despite the valiant effort to keep the shop functioning during the renovation period, by taking over the Parish Office located in the Jubilee Hall. In the first two months of 2020 business was good, during what is traditionally a quite period , while customers seek to recover from the gastronomic and financial excesses of Christmas and New Year Celebrations.
But what was to follow was completely unprecedented in the long history

of the village shop, indeed the whole parish.

The Covid-19 virus lockdown
Early in 2020, news of a new Corona type virus located in China, was reaching the media with increasing frequency. At first it attracted little attention. New viruses were always coming and going. Nothing to worry about!

However, by February it was into Europe, with high death rates among the elderly and people with pre-existing health conditions. By early March it had reached the United Kingdom. In response, the UK government instituted a major lockdown on social interaction to minimise spread. This included the closure of most retail businesses, except for food outlets and other vital services. Winsham Shop did not have to close, unlike 'The Bell'.

There followed a remarkable demonstration of the importance of village shops and their value to small communities. Following the strict instructions laid down by government, relating to social distancing and customer and staff hygiene procedures, Winsham Shop, with its dedicated staff and team of volunteers. was able to provide a vital retail service, including an ordering and delivery service, especially important to the more vulnerable categories of residents - those over the age of 70, the disabled, and/or with underlying health conditions. This service minimised the need for residents to travel into nearby towns such as Chard and Crewkerne, thereby reducing the risk of catching and spreading the virus.


Many vulnerable customers (over 70 or with
'at-risk' conditions) opted for shop deliveries organised by volunteers. Younger and fitter customers were allowed in, but just one at a time.

The law required the installation of counter and
cash-point screens to protect both customers and staff from airborne risk of infection.
On March 17th, the Shop Management Committee issued a statement, along with other village organisations, via the Winsham E-Letter, the Parish Web site and the community Facebook page, and with posters around the village. It expressed its intention to stay open during the restrictions, reassuring residents about continuity of supplies of fresh foods. It also called for volunteers to help with deliveries to 'at risk' residents, and to help with maintaining the enhance bio-security needed. Needless to say , the response was unprecedented. To read the statement Click HERE.

There followed a difficult three months or so, but during this period Winsham Shop and Post Office was a beacon of stability in daily life that gave confidence to many who lived or worked in the parish, that one day things would return to normal.

Despite all this, work on up-dating the shop and its methods continued. New shelving systems arrived and were installed.
Trade flourished, despite the growing on-line presence of the major supermarkets and others.

Easing of the Lockdown

As Spring eased into Summer the contagion rate -the 'R' number eased nationally to below 1, and there was a gradual easing of restrictions, although the shop continued to meet its government required bio-security measures. Nevertheless, life did begin to become more 'normal'. The South West enjoyed lower rates of infection throughout this period, compared with many parts of the UK, despite the tradition of it being a holiday area, visited by many people to enjoy its coast line and its beautiful countryside.


Sadly this was not to continue.

At the time of writing-late Autumn 2020, the spread of Covid -19 is accelerating rapidly, especially in the north of England , Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland, with severe lockdowns being applied in many parts.
Fortunately they are not yet applying to the South West, although the danger of increased contagion is ever present.
To minimise risk, the wearing of Facemasks by customers has become necessary, also by staff when not working behind the protective screens. Numbers of customers within the shop at any one time are also limited. Nobody knows what the next few months will bring. A promised vaccine,  may become available early 2021 year-lets hope so!

BUT LIFE GOES ON....
And the management of Winsham Shop continues to innovate!
As explained in Part three of this narrative of the fortunes of Winsham Shop and Post Office over the five years spanning 2016 to 2020, competition has intensified and people's shopping habits are  changing
During the pandemic, a general nationwide reaction has resulted in a massive increase in home-delivery by most of the major supermarket groups and others, including Amazon, as a result of on-line shopping. At the same time  Winsham Shop has seen a significant increase in turnover during the early part of the pandemic, although in recent months the level of business returning to more conventional levels. It raises the question; what does this mean?
The Management Committee of the shop and post-office are reacting positively to both the challenge and the potential opportunities presented by the situation. They recently introduced a simple -to-use, on-line shopping system, using   a very sophisticated web site, that compares well to those being used by the major supermarkets. Clearly such a system would be beyond the resources of Winsham Shop to develop, but the management committee's far-sighted on going involvement with the Plunkett Foundation, the charity set up to help community resources such as village shops and pubs, has enabled them to be an early participant in a system that will become increasingly available to village shops throughout the UK
Payment is made on line via Debit Credit Card, and collection is by arrangement.
The above is a screen shot of a typical 'shopping page' of the new website. These are linked to an easy to use menu system which quickly takes visitors to a wide range of choice


Authors Note:
In preparing Parts 3 to Part 5 of this record of the  history of Winsham Shop and Post Office during the period 2016-2020, I have spoken with many people involved with various aspects of the struggle to keep the business going. Although I met with differing views, nobody that I spoke to wanted the shop and post-office to close. Some were vehemently opposed to 'The George ' project, and feelings sometime ran high on this.
In the end , most-if not all, accept that the present situation, in terms of location, has worked out well.
For my part, given the limited scope of the web site, I have tried to give a fair  and balanced account  of a testing few years.
Before closing , a few weeks ago I was approached by the Chairman of Winsham Shop Management Committee enquiring if I could include a small tribute to one of their
Directors. When I saw what they wanted to say, I had no difficulty in agreeing:

 

At the request of the Directors of Winsham Shop Post Office, special mention is made of Paula Bramley Ball, Commercial Director. Paula is praised as being a driving force, leading the efforts described above in ensuring the continuity of the village owned business.

Winsham Shop and Post Office were very fortunate to have such a person with great experience and expertise among their team. Before moving away from Corporate life to live in Winsham with her husband, she had worked, since leaving University, for the UKs leading supermarket, rising to a senior executive post at their head office.

 

The Directors of Winsham Shop and Post Office during the period 2016-2020:

Sarah Gleadell (Hon. Sec.), Jean Spurdle, Margaret Long, Paula Bramley Ball  (Commercial), Eric West, Denis McCallum (Chairman), Gill Spence, Sally Cunliffe, Stephen Miller, Rita Miller

John Sullivan-November 2020