Local people have banded together to try and save South Zeal’s local shop, The Stores, which is in danger of closure as the current owner plans to retire.

West Devon Borough Councillor Lynn Daniel, South Tawton Parish Councillor Ken Crawford and Jill Hobbs, who works at the local church, have created a steering group to conduct research into the possibility of turning it into a community-owned store in order to ensure that villagers will still be able to access vital supplies.

Currently, the steering group are looking into the amount of support for the idea within the village and are asking residents to complete a survey to help the group assess the idea’s potential.

Cllr Crawford said: ‘Most people we speak to are enthusiastic and have come up with some great ideas like a community fridge or coffee shop.

‘The store was built on a burbage plot meaning it has one third to half an acre of land on which people could grow their own vegetables or raise pigs. We can grow our own produce there. There’s also a building out the back we could use as a repair shop.’

So far, there have been over one hundred responses to the survey with 99 percent of people saying they would use The Stores if it were a community shop and 94 percent considering the Post Office the most important part of the shop. Furthermore, at least one third of the village’s population support the idea of a community-owned shop as a whole.

But the three steering group members want to go further than that and are aiming to garner at least half the village’s support in the hope that it will be enough to encourage the Plunkett Foundation, a charity which helps rural communities set up community-owned assets, to help them.

‘If we prove enough support in the village, the Plunkett Foundation will allocate us an advisor for free who will run us through what we need to do to set it up. A lot of people are saying that community shops don’t work but the Plunkett Foundation has established over 300 shops with a five-year survival rate of 95 percent,’ added Cllr Crawford.

A community-owned store would mean that shoppers have the potential to purchase community-holding shares, meaning that the shares never change value no matter the economic climate, and all profits would go back into the community.

The decision to research the possibility of a community-owned shop came as residents feared the loss of the village’s closest shop would have a detrimental effect on the community, particularly as a planning application to turn the shop into a residential building has been submitted.

Cllr Daniel explained that the next nearest shop would be in Sticklepath which would mean a long walk up a steep hill for those who cannot drive.

There are also concerns that the shop’s closure would result in the loss of a vital community space as the village hall is often inaccessible due to lorries blocking the car park and has been the target of vandalism in the past.

Cllr Daniel described The Stores as having the potential to become a ‘community hub’ as well as a community shop, since the space could be used for additional purposes because the building is located in the centre of the village and is more easily accessible than the village hall.

The survey will be available until November 30 and anyone wishing to complete it should visit the South Tawton Parish Council website at southtawtonparishcouncil.org.uk and click on the link to the online survey.