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  • Annette Holman

Heart of the Community event: the role of convenience stores in safer, more connected communities

Image courtesy of ACS website

This October I attended the ‘Heart of the Community’ event hosted by the Association on Convenience Stores (ACS) who act as a voice of over 33,500 local shops. It was an annual event for the sector, bringing together retailers, suppliers and key policymakers to discuss high priority issues for local shops. The focus for the event was looking at how we can deliver safer, connected and more inclusive local communities.

The event was of great interest to Neighbourly Lab as it supports our new programme of work around ‘Unlocking social opportunities in shops’ which is being kindly funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. We believe convenience stores have unique powers to bring communities together and provide a touchpoint for outreach and support. This is backed up byThe 2023 Local Shops Report by ACS that found 79% of independent retailers engaged in some form of community activity over the past year. And with further evidence that 36% of customers know the people running and working in their local shop very well or quite well. We want to explore how these regular and trusted relationships could support wider community and social connection.

The real ‘heart’ of the event for me was hearing from the three finalists of the Raj Aggarwal Trophy, marking the legacy of independent retailer and community champion Raj Aggarwal. The three finalists had been shortlisted based on a number of criteria including their impact on the local community.

Firstly we heard from Sheela Keshwara of SPAR Priory Road, Boston, Lincolnshire. Having moved to the area only a couple of years ago she had made it her mission to learn and get involved in the community as much as possible. This included sponsoring the local football teams and supporting local businesses that empower women, which in turn has given them a place as a trusted part of the community and increased footfall to her store.

Trudy Davies of Woosnam & Davies News in Wales has established a real community set up in her area. Her store has been in the area for many years and is seen as a hub of the community offering local produce, fundraising for different causes including a village ‘Control bleed kit’ and setting up a knitting club across the area with people visiting the store to drop off their knitting for donations.

And finally, Linda Williams of Broadway Premier, Edinburgh (and the eventual winner). Linda and husband Dennis have been running their store for a number years and built up a lot of respect from the community. They have fundraised personally for local residents who have faced challenges and they also support the young people in the area with work experience and job opportunities to help them succeed in life. They are soon to pass over to their daughter Sophie to take on the family business.

A key theme between all three stores was around the importance of social connection for the stores and their community. We must also recognise they are businesses and also need to be sustainable for their survival. It is this ‘crossroad’ that we are especially interested in. How can we support local convenience stores' future and sustainability by working and engaging further with their local community?

Our programme will seek to answer this question. We are working in Glasgow, Great Yarmouth and Birmingham and looking for local convenience stores who may be interested in trailing and testing some exciting innovative initiatives to support their business and increase the social connection within their community.

If you, or someone you know might be interested in learning more, sharing their experiences, and being kept up to date about the programme's development, please email

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