WHAT makes a village a community?

Without a focal point, a small settlement is merely a smattering of disconnected homes.

When Langham’s only convenience shop closed 2002, many feared the village had lost its heart.

While providing refreshments at that year’s village bonfire night, a group of like-minded folk conceived the idea of a community-run shop.

A simple idea, which when translated to reality, became much more complicated.

Almost two years of fundraising, legal wrangles, setbacks and delays followed.

The shop was founded in a basic portacabin in 2004, alongside a Post Office, which now runs for two mornings a week

When the temporary planning permission became an issue, a scheme was agreed to extend the nearby community centre to provide a purpose built pre-school and a permanent site for the shop.

Grants were sourced and building work on the shop was completed in 2010, with a formal opening in early 2011.

Manned entirely by volunteers, with one manager working part time, the shop has gone from strength to strength.

Charlotte Parker, 45, has managed the store for the past two years.

“It’s a central part of the village, we just celebrated 15 years,” she said.

“A lot of the village population is of a quite elderly make-up and it is very helpful for people who would otherwise need to travel to the Co-op in Dedham or Tesco in Highwoods, Colchester.

“We do everything, from newspapers to basic essentials.”

Typically the shop can depend on a pool of around 40 volunteers working in two hour shifts.

It serves a social and practical purpose.

“For many volunteers it is their two hours of socialising every week,” said Charlotte.

“Quite a few are retired and at the moment it is difficult because of social isolation.

“Many will come and have a coffee, have a cup of tea and cakes, sit and have a catch up.”

The coronavirus pandemic took it its toll on the shop, which had to close its doors during lockdown.

“We ran on a skeleton staff, with 14 of us split into twos and a couple working each shift,” said Charlotte.

“We took orders and carried out deliveries around Langham and Boxted.

“We had lots of people offering to carry out deliveries, but also making contact with regulars who hadn’t been able to come in, checking on people to make sure they were okay.

“Volunteers have stepped up throughout the pandemic, giving up their time to make a difference.”

A registered charity, the shop does not run to make a profit, with any funds raised put towards developing the store and acquiring new equipment.

During the pandemic, the shop benefitted from contacts with suppliers to ensure it always had enough of every essential item in stock.

Charlotte said: “We were run ragged during lockdown, we made sure we supported our loyal customers and provided our service right into Boxted.

“We are still doing quite a few deliveries now, as many people still haven’t ventured out yet, so we carry on the service.”

She added: “During lockdown we produced leaflets and popped them through doors around Langham and Boxted looking for volunteers.

“We managed to get 20 people just doing deliveries as needed.

“In one way the pandemic helped as perhaps people who were furloughed were more willing and able to help.

“If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have been able to do deliveries.

“We had some people who had never even been in the shop, people just want to help, making deliveries.

“I want to give a huge thank you to everyone that’s helped the shop throughout this time, it really has become the heart of the village over the years and we couldn’t have done it without all of our volunteers, helpers and delivery people.

“We are on the lookout for more volunteers.

“Anyone can choose the shift they would like to do and volunteers are never on their own.”

For more information, call Charlotte on 01206 242431 or email communityshoplangham@gmail.com.