Thursday, 20 June 2019

Hardware shop may return as community enterprise

A HARDWARE store in Watlington which was badly damaged in a fire two years ago could be re-opened as a community enterprise.

DG Homecare in High Street store was gutted in the blaze in April 2017 and a residential property next door was also damaged.

The building was boarded up for months while repairs were carried out and earlier this year it was being offered for rent.

Now a group of residents is keen to see it re-open as a hardware shop.

They are to launch a crowdfunding campaign to raise the £50,000 needed to cover the first year’s running costs, including a refit, stock, rent and two members of staff.

Steph Van de Pette, a parish councillor, said: “Everybody misses the hardware store. You ask anyone and they all say ‘we need it back’. It was such a valued resource. You have to go 10 miles to get to a similar shop. There’s nothing convenient or close. We just really miss it because it stocked everything you needed.

“We have been looking at how we can bring forward a hardware store by forming a community group. There are several people in town interested in doing that.

“We just think it would be a real shame to see that unit, which is very large, not be a retail space.

“It could add a huge amount to an already thriving high street and it would be a shame if it was lost to offices.”

Mrs Van de Pette, who lives in Spring Lane, said there were people interested in running a repair café and the business could offer DIY tools for hire. She said: “Our plan is to set up a social enterprise that would take on the lease of the property. A large part of it at the front would be for a hardware store and a large portion at the back would be a community workshop space.

“We could run the repair café in there every Friday morning and run make do and mend classes.

“You could also use it as a creative community hub. There are so many artists and crafts people in Watlington and the surrounding area. They are working from home and are on their own a lot of the time.

“We hope that there would be enough space left to have maybe a couple of small retail premises that could either be used as pop-up spaces or short-term lets for people to try out their business ideas.”

Mrs Van de Pette, who launched her own zero waste sustainability business from home last month, hopes there would also be space to display artwork.

She said: “I was struggling to find a retail space for my start-up business and it got me thinking ‘finding affordable retail space is just impossible’.

“I’m really excited about it and really positive. I think Watlington will pull together and make this happen. There’s obviously a massive time pressure because we know there’s another interested party in the property so we need to make a realistic offer before they sign on the dotted line.”

A meeting about the plans will be held in the West Room of the parish office on Monday at 7.30pm. All are welcome to attend.

Dorian Griffiths, owner of estate agents Griffiths & Partners, who are offering the property, said: “There’s a deal in progress which is going to be good news for Watlington. Further comment cannot be made.”

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