I was delighted to hear this week that Kirdford Village Stores has won the Countryside Alliance's award for Best Village Shop in the South East region.
The awards, nicknamed the ‘Rural Oscars', are now in their seventh year, celebrating the characters, skills, traditions and enterprise of the countryside through the people who work so hard to make it tick. The Awards are led by public nomination, so each business is put forward by a supportive customer.
Although they were pipped to the post for the overall national prize, Craig Ramus, the Stores' manager, Committee Chairman Sue Ransley and their predominantly volunteer staff deserve high praise for what they've achieved.
I attended the opening of the store by local celebrity Julie Walters in June 2010. The closure of the old village shop in 2006 spurred local residents into raising over £200,000 to re-open the stores under community ownership.
I visited again on Friday and I was delighted to see that the stores have become an integral part of village life, with a fantastic range of local produce. They also serve snacks and I had a delicious sandwich and cup of tea.
Kirdford followed the successful example of community shops in Amberley, which has been going since 1998, and Graffham.
Slindon, which lost successively its pub, post office and shop, has a plan to create a community shop, cafe and hub at the old forge in the village, hopefully by September. Organisers of this project point out that there are around 250 community shops across the country - with a 97 per cent success rate.
I hope they succeed. These community shops are a brilliant example of The Big Society, with people coming together to protect their local services. What's striking is that community shops are often better than the shops which were lost before, and are more supported precisely because local people feel a sense of ownership over them.
The new Localism Act is intended to help remove barriers to community ownership of local amenities and enable their survival where there is local demand. With fantastic work by volunteers, our Downland community shops show what local people power can achieve. Well done, Kirdford, for winning your 'Rural Oscar' - you richly deserve it.