Furnace Village Store Offers More
In 2019, An Suidhe Wind Farm Community Fund helped Furnace Community SCIO safeguard the future of the village shop and Post Office by bringing it into community ownership.
Furnace Village Store is the only grocery shop and Post Office in the village of Furnace. It is central to community life, providing access to Post Office services and a general store. These allow local people to collect pensions, top up prepayment meters, access cash and buy essentials.
The previous owners of the business, who had been running the shop for 18 years, wanted to retire and had the business up for sale for over three years with no takers. Unfortunately, they decided they would need to close the shop in February 2019, whether they could sell or not, though helpfully gave the community advance notice. The local community were understandably concerned that losing this key local facility could lead to the village losing some of its population and potentially going into long-term decline. Furnace Community SCIO, therefore, stepped in to purchase and retain the business.
The Scottish Land Fund provided a grant of £164,065 to meet most of the purchase price and related costs but required further funding to meet the total of £196,833. The An Suidhe Wind Farm Community Fund panel awarded £10,000 in November 2018, and contributions were received from several local businesses. The purchase included the shop and the bungalow behind it to provide accommodation.
The Trustees of Furnace Community SCIO considered different approaches to running the shop, such as whether they could manage the shop themselves and staff it with volunteers. This option was rejected in favour of leasing the shop and bungalow to an experienced third party.
The couple who took over the shop had experience running both a restaurant and a shop. They installed a kitchen (at their own expense) and now provide hot food and takeaways alongside the Post Office and shop facilities.
The shop is open seven days a week and is used by the majority of the 250 or so residents in Furnace and by many residents of the village of Minard, which is about four miles from Furnace and no longer has a shop. In addition, many lorry drivers, tradespersons and passing visitors use the shop.
Andrea Henderson of Furnace Community SCIO explains how vital the shop is to Furnace:
“A shop and Post Office are very important to a rural area and certainly to one like ours with an ageing population, many of whom don't drive. The additional provision of take-away and sit-in food and coffee are a bonus. The leaseholders work long hours to offer a service to the community, employees of the nearby quarry and fish farm, and to passing traffic. With the help of volunteers, they arranged deliveries of food and newspapers during the covid-19 lockdowns to those needing them. The Post Office facility has also been crucial as with the closure of local branches of banks the nearest is 16 miles away, and our is now the only Post Office in a 20 mile radius.”
Rent from the shop and bungalow is ring-fenced for repairs and maintenance to the buildings. Still, when the SCIO feels confident that most major repairs and maintenance have been undertaken, any surplus rent will be invested back into community projects.
Reflecting on the shop's success so far, the SCIO trustees highlighted the value of leasing it to people with the experience, energy and business ideas to run it. Transferring the Sub-Postmaster role to the new leaseholder proved more time-consuming than expected. However, the goodwill of the former shop owner was invaluable in continuing to support the Post Office facility during that time.
An Suidhe Wind Farm Community Fund supports community projects benefitting those living in the areas covered by the Community Councils of: Glenorchy and Innishail (Eredine only); Inveraray; Furnace, and by Dalavich Improvement Group.