Essex Community Foundation
"When Toppesfield’s village shop and post office closed, it didn’t take the villagers long to realise what they had lost. The interaction between local people was under threat as they no longer had a place to meet regularly in the village. ECF’s support was pivotal in enabling them to preserve a very important aspect of village life."
Caroline Taylor, Deputy Chief Executive

Community spirit keeps Toppesfield alive

Residents in Toppesfield have proved that people power can be very successful in making the wheels of the community go round. They not built a new shop, after the last privately-owned one closed, saving their Post Office in the process, but they also bought the village pub to prevent it from shutting down. Their next community enterprise is to be a micro-brewery next to the pub.

Grants from ECF have helped the villagers make their dreams become a reality and Toppesfield has become a shining example of what can be achieved in keeping the heart of a community beating.

Toppesfield Community Stores and the Green Man Pub, owned by local people, are pivotal points for the village, providing much needed facilities. Work has started on the Pumphouse Brewery, being established in a barn next to the pub and it is hoped that the first brews will be ready for sale in July this year.

Alan Collard, who was founding chairman and is now treasurer of Toppesfield Community Pub, the community benefit company set up by residents to buy the Green Man, said: “We were very concerned that the pub was going to be closed and we decided we didn't want to lose it, as it is such an important focal point for the village. A group of us got together in 2012, set up the community benefit company and launched a share issue which raised £156,000 from 156 shareholders.

“We also raised a mortgage and were given grants including £3,000 from the village shop. We bought the pub with a sitting tenant who runs the business, an arrangement which works well for all. We have learnt a lot along the way and it's been hard work, but it has been worthwhile. It is very satisfying to know that the pub is now under the control of people in the village and will continue to be an asset for the community.

Alan is also a member of the steering committee for the Pumphouse Brewery project, which has been given a grant of £3,000 from ECF.

He said: “We had been thinking for a couple of years that it would make sense to have a micro-brewery linked to the pub. Last year we heard that the small Helions Bumpstead Brewery was closing and the equipment was for sale. We set up the Pumphouse Brewery company and did a share issue again, raising £21,000 from 73 shareholders and bought the equipment.  We knew that Phil Snowdon, the brewer who was at Helions Bumpstead, was keen to carry on brewing so he will be running the Pumphouse Brewery for us.

“We will be able to sell to the Green Man, so it can offer reasonably priced craft beers and hope to have the first brews ready for sale in July.

“The main message I have taken from the projects in the village is that now is the right time, if a community wants to do something similar. Community enterprises are now very attractive things to support and there is a lot of help available out there, including the support we have had from ECF.”

Toppesfield's community shop is an outstanding example of a successful community project.  Residents went into action when the village shop and post office suddenly closed in 2001.

A public meeting was called and villagers voted overwhelmingly to establish a community shop, to be built at the front of the village hall. Sixteen months later a bright village-owned shop with an up-to-date Post Office cabin, was built on land secured with a 99 year lease. The shop is run entirely by volunteers on a not-for-profit basis.

A grant of £5,366 from ECF was given to equip the shop with refrigeration and display units.

Toppesfield Community Stores and Post Office is now the well-established “pop-in” place for shopping, news, post, directions, pensions, leaving messages, meeting friends, paying bills and asking advice. Many customers describe Toppesfield Community Stores as an “Aladdin’s Cave” because of the wide range of stock packed into such a small area.

Ann Read, chairman of Toppesfield Community Village Shop Association said: “ We only have two buses a week, so it is difficult for people without transport to travel to do any shopping.  Having the community shop in the village helps people maintain their independence and live their lives comfortably. They can buy fresh food without having to travel miles to do their shopping.

“Wherever possible we source our stock locally and surplus profits are given as grants for things going on in village, such as a book club at the school and setting up allotments. “

Caroline Taylor, deputy chief Executive at ECF said “When Toppesfield’s village shop and post office closed, it didn’t take the villagers long to realise what they had lost. The interaction between local people was under threat as they no longer had a place to meet regularly in the village. ECF’s support was pivotal in enabling them to preserve a very important aspect of village life.

“The shop has been such a success that other areas now turn to Toppesfield for advice on setting up such a community enterprise.”