Amidst calls for changes in Government policy towards retail in rural areas, Kilkenny LEADER Partnership (KLP) collaborated with, South Tipperary, Carlow, North Tipperary and Laois Leader and Partnership groups to bring Ireland’s first national conference on community shops: Counter Revolution to the Horse and Jockey in Co. Tipperary.

The Counter Revolution conference aimed to inspire rural communities by providing information and workshop support. The conference addressed the many important roles that community shops offer to rural localities. With speakers including villagers who have already set up co-operatives to run shops in areas devoid of services, there was an overall recognition that communities must come up with their own solutions in the absence of changes to planning laws. With up to 13 retail units a week closing down nationwide, small villages have been “vacuumed” clean of services, according to NUI Galway academic Richard Silke. Declan Rice, CEO of Kilkenny Leader Partnership, predicted that, “Community shops are going to become huge over the next few years.” He also added that, “With rising transport cost and the closure of more and more commercial services in rural areas, there is increasing pressure on communities to provide their own solutions.”

Peter Couchman of the UK’s Plunkett Foundation told of the success of community shops in the UK, stating, “A community shop is a wonderful opportunity. What we see is not people opening shops, but people saving the future of their village. We see people believing in themselves and I believe that cetainly applies to Ireland today. We see shops connected to their communities so the most vulnerable in the community have a place to go and a place to be welcomed and the community can actually support them.”

Stating that community-run shops are “vital”, Kevin Leydon, Professor of Political Science, NUIG, said, “You can buy two eggs in a community shop, or six grapes, and unlike large supermarkets, community shops create an emotional connection in a community.” He called on rural activists to employ a new language in talking to planners about society’s needs, stressing community values over developer priorities.

Visit the Rural Community Retail Website for more information.