Friday, 14 October 2016

Saving The Lord Roberts


   © Copyright Dr Neil Clifton

The village shop and post office in Upper Woodcote Village closed at the end of August.
I would like to explain about plans to acquire the shop through a community benefit society and reestablish a vibrant retail operation there.

History
This is very painful to many particularly those who were friends of Mike and Jill and the staff who worked at the Lord Roberts.
Despite considerable local opposition the owners of the property, Ken and Carol Webb, have received approval from Croydon Council to reduce the current space used by the shop and convert and build additional residential space above and adjoining the shop. Crucially, however, the plans for the development of residential space adjacent to the existing building as approved by Croydon Council expressly envisage the shop continuing. As a result of these plans and in the absence of any agreement between the owners and the tenants the business ceased trading at the end of August 2016.
After detailed discussions in October 2016 The Webb’s signed heads of agreement to sell a long leasehold interest in the retail premises and associated garden to a newly formed entity widely owned by local residents. The heads of agreement are not legally binding but with the support of the community we are now proceeding to formal and binding documentation as quickly as possible.

The purchase
The terms of the agreement are as follows. The current owners will grant a 150 year lease in respect of the retail premises and associated garden to a newly formed community benefit society for £105,000. The lease will be in standard terms and will provide for the payment of a nominal rent only.  The Society will be responsible for renovation and refurbishment works on the retail area. With other fees and costs, we estimate that Newco has a total capital requirement in the order of £150,000-£170,000. We have already contacted residents (both through mailings and at a public meeting on 4th October) to raise this capital and have received a heartening in principle response.

Who is buying?
The purchaser will be a Community Benefit Society. A Community Benefit Society exists to benefit the wider collective interests of a community, rather than that of its staff, or shareholders. A Community Benefit Society structure also emphasizes its members and member involvement and has a legal structure that enable genuine community ownership with equal and democratic control. This means:
• Open and voluntary membership
• One member, one vote rather than one vote per share
• The interests of the shop to be linked into community control, disallowing any one member from having greater control than others
• No profit distribution to members based on investment (other than payment of interest). Interest can be paid on the shares (up to a maximum of 2% p.a. above base rate –currently 0.25%) but only if Newco can afford to do so, having taken into account its other liabilities and the need for reinvestment
Shares in the society cannot be transferred but can be withdrawn subject to very strict limits. 

The new shop
 The Society will buy the space that forms the retail premises of the Lord Roberts. This is very similar to the shop space that you will be familiar with as customers, increased in size (post development) by the removal of the staircase that leads to the flat above. A significant part of the old shop that was used for storage will not be leased to us. The overall floor area will be reduced in size from 139 sq m to 80 sq m due to the loss of various storage areas / office space. The retail area will remain the same size. The main loss of space will be from storage, office accommodation and toilet facilities, which will be reduced in size from approximately 80 sq m to 21 sq m. Any operator will need to be satisfied that the shop can properly function without this space. In addition, we will be offered the chance to take a portion of the garden immediately to the left of the front of the shop. This could either be integrated into the shop space as a tea garden or similar or, possibly, preserved and maintained as a freestanding community garden.
At this stage our thinking is that the Society will not operate the shop premises itself but will screen and appoint the best operator available. The shop will be run as a community asset and with sensitivity to the heritage of the Lord Roberts and its surrounding environment. It is not intended that it be run for profit but it should not operate at a loss.  

Will the post office reopen?
We cannot say for sure. Contracts are granted by the Post Office when a specific application is made. The Post Office is currently advertising this franchise for sale with offer closing in July 2017. It will be our wish to see that the post office is reopened but we cannot progress this until we have a candidate to take the sub-lease.

Can you help?
We will be circulating a formal offer document in the next few weeks to enable the Society to raise the necessary funds to save the Lord Roberts.

If you want to be included in that circulation send your name and address by email to
David Mullarkey at mullarkeywebbestate@yahoo.co.uk.

If you think you can help in any other  way please also drop David a line.
Many thanks
David Mullarke

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