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Village store given six months' grace.

Byline: By Hayley Beattie

A remote rural community fighting to keep a village store open have won a reprieve, with bosses at the store agreeing to give them another six months to turn the business around.

Villagers in Halton Lea Gate on the Cumbria/Northumberland border were shocked when they were told by owners of the Co-op, Penrith Co-operative Society, it was planning to close the store on October 15.

But after two public meetings, where villagers pleaded with the company to give them more time to rejuvenate the failing shop, bosses have agreed to another six months.

The news is a reversal of the trend across the North with more and more rural services deciding to shut up shop, including the post office at Matfen and the Co-op at Wearhead, County Durham, which is also owned by Penrith Co-operative Society. But villagers have been told that if takings do not significantly improve, it will be closed in March 2006, without any further protest. John Tompkins, Co-op chief executive for finance, said the store was losing up to pounds 20,000 a year, and only generated pounds 2,500 a week, when it needed to make double that to break even.

Chairman of the parish council Stan Rowntree said villagers were delighted they had been given an extra chance to save the vital service.

He said there are many people in the village who rely on the shop, as bus services to other stores at Hallbankgate and Haltwhistle were limited.

"We have now got to pull the shop around and made sure it is there after the six months," he said.

"We have asked the company to improve some of the products in the store and will now be asking people in the area what sort of things they want.

"I think we can win the battle, as I think people are more aware of how important the facility is to the community." Mr Tompkins said: "We are going to keep villagers updated regularly with how things are going so they know if it is working or not."

The Co-op also houses the post office and although a PO spokesman said any closure would not affect the service, as alternative premises would be found, Mr Rowntree said many villagers were concerned about its future as well.

Tynedale councillor Margaret Stonehouse said she hoped other rural communities could learn from villagers in Halton Lea Gate and those in her own village of Allendale, who won the fight to keep their post office open. She said: "I know how important something like a Co-op is to people in rural communities. We nearly lost our post office but we fought hard to keep it open. All these services are needed as a lifeblood in these areas and once they are closed people move away."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 10, 2005
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