Most people appreciate a decent local shop – somewhere to buy a pint of milk, a newspaper and perhaps the odd chocolate bar. But if that shop is the only one on your island, it takes on a much greater significance.
There were celebrations on the Scottish island of Lismore this week when its community saved its only shop – also its bank, post office and social hub – after funding a buyout.
The shop was threatened with closure earlier this year when the schoolteacher running it decided to return to the classroom, causing consternation among Lismore’s 160 permanent residents.
Faced with the prospect of a three-hour round trip to Oban for an emergency loaf of bread, the island community showed typical self-sufficiency and decided to take matters into its own hands – encouraging residents and tourists who love the spot to buy shares in the Lismore store.
The share issue campaign by the Lismore Community trust (LCT) smashed its initial target of raising £70,000, attracting more than 230 backers and £80,000 in donations, with money still coming in.
To celebrate, nearly half the population of the island turned out for the ribbon-cutting ceremony this week. Local newspaper the Oban Times was among those congratulating the doughty islanders, noting: “What Lismore has achieved here is a fine example of how big thinking by tiny islands really works, aided by dedication, determination and the generosity of those who believe in and back the cause of community empowerment.”
Now the shop – which the LCT chair, Andy Hough, described as a “lifeline” to the community – will be able to buy the startup stock it needs, carry out refurbishments, and keep the business ticking over for a few years.
“It is not just somewhere where people buy groceries, it is somewhere people can come, chat, find the craic,” he said.
The consequences of closure could have been catastrophic for the island, he added. “We have a fragile population anyway and it would have added to that feeling of isolation. It could have been the beginning of depopulation.”
But support from residents, second homeowners and tourists had saved the day, he said. “It was heartening to see people from all walks of life, be that permanent residents or second homeowners, coming together to engender that community spirit.”
Under its new ownership full-time workers will staff the shop, run by a manager who has two young children, but it will get business support from a team of volunteers. As much as it will be run for the community – plans include the installation of wifi in the shop – they also hope it might actually make money.
“It is as much a service as anything else,” said Hough. “But we do want to make sure it does not make a loss.”