Kieran Coughlan: Co-op movement to the rescue as village loses shop

Courtmacsherry

During the bank holiday weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the picturesque village of Courtmacsherry, a medium-sized village located on the coastline between Timoleague and Clonakilty, in West Cork.

The village is probably best known for its long heritage with the RNLI, having been one of the first communities in Ireland to establish lifeboat services, over 190 years ago.

Like many West Cork villages, the population grows substantially during the summer months, with an influx of tourists staying in local camp sites and holiday accommodation, and dining at a variety of cafés and pubs in the village and its hinterland.

The village was dealt a blow last year with the closure of the last remaining shop, due to the owner retiring.

A population of 500 within the village and its surrounds were left with a void in their community.

For a community which in its former glory hosted over a dozen shops and merchants, the closure of the last remaining convenience store looked like a death knell for the village.

In common with so many other villages around the country, the local shop offered much more that a place where people could buy provisions.

Perhaps more than any other part of the infrastructure of a community, the shop glues a community together - a place where stories and local news are exchanged, a place for young people to get their first employment, a place where elderly people are helped with their groceries, a place where the shopkeeper knows everyone and keeps an eye out for the vulnerable in society.

The loss of the local shop inspired a group of people to establish whether something could be done for the needs of the community.

The idea of a community shop was born, it was quickly established that the shop could also provide tourist information services to the many visitors to the village.

A committee was formed to assess the appetite within the community for the shop and tourist information centre, and set about assessing the financial feasibility of the project. 

An application for co-operative status was lodged in late 2015, and the community shop was put on a legal footing.

The new co-op is currently raising funding to establish and fit-out a community shop.

Funding will be needed to purchase stock, pay rent and insurance, and provide a working capital fund, such that the shop can commence to trade.

Some grant aid towards the fit-out costs of the business is expected under the LEADER initiative and the co-op is hoping to raise €60,000 by way of a share issue towards costs not covered by LEADER, with the general public currently being offered the opportunity to purchase shares in the co-operative.

The determination of the local community of Courtmacsherry not to simply roll over and accept the fate of a dying community but to create their own solution is inspirational.

The degree to which the community both needed and was willing to support their own community shop was firmly established in the feasibility study, with more than 60 people from the community offered to volunteer their services in the fit-out and running of the shop, and 94% of those participating in the survey suggesting their support for the venture.

As farmers, we are very familiar with the role Irish co-operatives have played in supporting our farming community, with all of the major milk processors and their agri-trading divisions having their roots established and in many cases still firmly rooted in the co-operative movement.

For the people of Courtmacsherry, it is hoped that the co-operative movement will once again fill a void within West Cork, while once again making their mark in the history books as one of the first communities to create their own community shop.

The people of Courtmacsherry are inspirational indeed.


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