Bid launched to save Speldhurst village shop and post office

HOLDING THEIR POSTS: The future of the local shop & post office are the subject of a consultation

A PARISH Council in Tunbridge Wells has launched a consultation for a new project to save a local shop and post office, after fears it could shut for good if a new location is not secured.

Residents of Speldhurst Parish, including Langton Green, Ashurst, and Old Groombridge, are being asked for their thoughts on saving the Speldhurst’s Community Shop and Post Office, which is at risk of closure when its lease ends in 2024.

A new project led by residents says the shop’s future could lie just across the road at the Speldhurst Chapel, which is now up for sale.

The Speldhurst Chapel Project group proposed that the Parish Council purchase the chapel to secure the future of the shop and Post Office.

Edward Pinnell, Chairman of the Management Committee, the board that oversees the Speldhurst Community Shop, told the Times: “This is the only shop and post office in Speldhurst and it means a lot to the residents.

“The shop and post office are viable; it trades well and had already proved its worth during the Covid-19 restrictions and its importance for locals.

This is not the first time the shop has been ‘saved’ by the village.”

In 2019, the shop was bought by the community with the help of 220 members of a new Community Benefit Society, the Speldhurst Community Shop Limited.

Mr Pinnell continued: “The advantage of buying the chapel means the shop will have a permanent residence and won’t be leased.

“It also means we can save the chapel from redevelopment, which is also a valuable community asset.”

However, to be able to buy the chapel the Parish Council must apply for a Public Works Loan of £325,000 for a term of 25 years, with repayments met by an increase in the precept (Council Tax) paid by Parish residents.

For the average home in the parish (Band D), the repayments over 25 years would add £1.04 a month, or £12.49 a year, to their Council Tax bill.

Residents have from August 1 to midnight, August 30 to complete the consultation on whether they would support the Parish Council applying for the loan and increase the Council Tax.

Backing the new project, Speldhurst Parish Councillor, Alan Rowe, told the Times: “We [the Council] have looked at other options to help save the shop and have come to the view that the Parish Council could purchase the Chapel, but that we would need to apply for a loan to fund this.

“Of course, the Parish Council wants to retain the shop and the post office. It is a community asset and would be a major gap in the village if it was lost, as the residents very much depend on the shop.

“Personally, I am in favour as I see the importance of keeping the shop and post office in the village as it is the only one in the whole parish.

“The Parish Council is positive, but we will be driven by the feedback received from the whole parish, as this affects everyone’s Council Tax.

“We [the Parish Council] will examine the feedback, which will inform our decision when the councillors vote on whether to apply for the loan.”

At the Full Council meeting on September 4, councillors will decide whether to go ahead with the project and apply for the Public Works Loan to purchase the chapel, which will be under the ownership of the Parish Council.

If the project is approved, the Council will then set up a Community Share Offer to raise around £400,000, along with donations and grants for building works and refurbishment.

The new shop is expected to open at the end of 2024. The shop and post office will be charged a reduced rent by the Council to operate in the chapel, which will also have extra space for parking and create a community hub to host regular activities.

The shop employs one full-time manager and a number of part-time assistants, with most being volunteers.

The next drop-in session for residents to view the chapel site and ask questions will be held on Saturday, August 19 2023, from 1pm to 3pm.

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