The small general store is a common feature in rural communities. It was striking recently travelling along the south coast to visit villages that have been reduced to one such facility and maybe a pub etc. The store often includes a post office.

Many other local facilities have disappeared. Pubs seem particularly under threat, at the moment, with the cost of living crisis cutting trade.

This effective gutting of the smaller community based enterprises, though, is not limited to rural areas.

It was striking recently talking to a friend who lived in Aldersbrook in the 1960s and 70s. He recalled how in those days, they got virtually all their shopping from the parade of shops, opposite the pond at the top of Wanstead Park Avenue. There was a bakers, butchers, greengrocers and various other outlets. Over the years, though, these shops all disappeared. People went to the supermarkets, instead, to get their food.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Cllr Paul Donovan wants to bring back the village feel to small communitiesCllr Paul Donovan wants to bring back the village feel to small communities (Image: Paul Donovan)

There was a period when supermarkets built the big superstores out of town. In those days, there was less concern about creating unnecessary journeys.

More recently, the supermarkets seem to have moved toward the smaller express type stores, often right in towns. Indeed, some of the general stores mentioned earlier are supermarket chains.

The shopping experience to some degree was skewed toward the car and supermarket. 

Life in many of the more isolated rural communities must be very difficult for those, particularly the elderly, who do not have a car. Getting the shopping must be a weekly challenge, using, often sporadic rural public transport networks.

Though, deliveries from supermarkets have grown incredibly, especially post Covid.

None of this is to criticise supermarkets or cars but to wonder whether there shouldn't be more of a move to increase locally based services, rebuilding the community. 

Supermarkets have a place but so too do the local independent shops. Maybe, rather than letting everything be run on the basis of let the market decide, there should be some support for the smaller independent operators, who are in many cases providing a genuine social service.

The cost-of-living crisis is not helping the plight of those small operators struggling to survive. But there are social and environmental pluses to be had from rebuilding the village ethos across the country.

There have been positive moves over recent years, with people looking increasingly to buy local.The development of farmers markets is another plus. But this move toward resilient local community needs support, particularly at the moment, with the pressures of orbiting energy prices and inflation.

The re-establishment of the village ethos offers a view for a more cohesive society for the future. Maybe a bit back to the future but a positive view all the same.

  • Cllr Paul Donovan is Labour councillor for Wanstead Village ward, Redbridge Council.