The Rockland Boutique offers essential services to the community

15:51 5 April 2022

“We don’t just buy a loaf of bread and get some milk, we’re a community hotspot and we take care of the community.”

That’s the philosophy of those who run Rocklands Community Shop in Rockland All Saints, near Attleborough.

For the staff and the many volunteers who devote their time to it on a daily basis, it is not just a question of offering a shop, a post office and a café.

It’s about building friendships and supporting the wider community – whether through loss or isolation.

The Rocklands Community Shop has remained open throughout the pandemic for the local community.
– Credit: Sonya Duncan

The store opened in March 2014 after hundreds of locals came together to save The Street Post Office, when former owners Alan and Elaine Johnson announced they wanted to retire after more than 25 years.

They propose trade to the village to make it a community enterprise and following a public meeting, which highlights the desire to keep trade and the post office in the village, an industrial provident society is formed.

A share offering was put in place which raised £46,000 at the time after 209 people showed their support.

George Freeman (in front with scissors) with villagers involved in the reopening of Rocklands Post Of

George Freeman (front with scissors) with villagers involved in the reopening of the Rocklands Post Office and Shop in 2014.
– Credit: La Poste

And since then, the community-owned and run business has gone from strength to strength thanks to “hard work” from the volunteer board and grants from the Plunkett Foundation, Prince’s Countryside Fund, Big Lottery Fund, the Norfolk community. Foundation, the Norfolk County Council Social Infrastructure Fund and the Hopkins-Plunkett Funding Scheme.

Now the team of four employees and 40 volunteers at Rocklands Community Shop not only provide items such as fresh bread, fruit and vegetables, milk and locally sourced meat at a competitive price, but also offer a place meeting and discussion.

Philip Dingle, 67, vice-chairman of the Rocklands Community Shop committee, said: “You only have to look at the customers and how they react to see what the fuss is about.

“You know just by talking to some people that you’re the only person they’ve talked to all week.

“There are small groups that meet like a local knitting group and a photography group.”

Mr Dingle, who previously ran the restaurant at Mr D’s Diner on the A11 in Attleborough, said he got involved with the shop after he wanted something to do.

He said Rockland’s community spirit sets them apart and has been recognized by others, who have reached out to find out more about how they operate.

Philip Dingle, Mr D himself, at his restaurant on the southbound carriageway of the A11 called Mr D's Din

Philip Dingle pictured in 2012 at Mr D’s Diner, which has since closed after his retirement.
– Credit: Copyright: Archant 2012

One of the store’s managers, Jane Stubbs, who joined at the start of the first Covid lockdown, added that the store also gives volunteers a “sense of purpose”.

The 55-year-old, who lives in the village, said: “A lot of customers come as a drop-in centre.

“Friendships are formed, it’s the most charming part of the shop.

“We try to involve a lot of people to be part of the community, some are lonely or grieving, and often you feel part of the counseling and offer advice or point them in the right direction for support.

“It’s definitely a lifeline for the community.

“I saw it recently when we lost three or four people in our community. You have widowers who come to talk and we have been beneficiaries of two people’s wills.

“It shows in a nutshell what people think of us.”

The Rockland Community Store recently got a makeover. Byline: Sonya Duncan

Rocklands Community Shop recently had a facelift.
– Credit: Sonya Duncan

The shop remained open throughout the pandemic and also offered a delivery service to vulnerable and isolated people. This service still remains in place for a few people locally.

And the premises have recently been refurbished to improve the coffee area and make the premises more accessible to people with reduced mobility.

The store recently received a grant to expand its spaces and improve its coffee space for local groups.

The store recently received a grant to expand its spaces and improve its coffee space for local groups.
– Credit: Sonya Duncan

“If you walk into the store it looks like any other, but if you only spend five minutes there you realize how much we rely on people giving their time,” Ms Stubbs said.

“It’s the fact that we don’t just buy a loaf of bread and get some milk, we’re a community hotspot and we take care of the community.”

One of the team managers, Paul Monk with store volunteer Tricia East.

One of the Rocklands Community Shop managers, Paul Monk, and one of the store’s volunteers, Tricia East.
– Credit: Sonya Duncan

Mr. Dingle expressed his gratitude on behalf of the committee for all the staff and volunteers, the Johnsons and Mrs. Stubbs.

He added: “The store is a huge asset to the community and has helped keep many people safe over the past two years and may it continue for a long time.”

It is now open Monday and Wednesday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Tuesday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Rocklands Community Shop is always looking for volunteers. Those interested can contact Ms Stubbs on 07502 332264.

Michelle J. Kelley