ACS: UK’s rural shops providing lifeline for isolated communities

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ACS has urged the Government to recognise the importance of rural shops and ensure that they are not left playing catch up when it comes to being able to provide services to their customers.

The 2021 ACS Rural Shop Report has revealed how crucial the UK’s 17,000+ rural shops are to their local communities, with findings from this year’s report showing that throughout 2020, rural consumers have increasingly used their local shop for a wider range of products, and one in five reporting that they depend on their local shop more now than a year ago.

More than a third of the UK convenience sector is made up of rural shops, often trading in isolated locations with no other businesses nearby. Between them, these shops provide local, flexible and secure employment for over 126,000 people – employment that fits around other commitments like caring for family members, studying, and childcare.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “Rural shops have been absolutely essential to their communities over the last year, helping customers to shop safely and putting in place new services like home delivery to support those who aren’t able to get out to stores. The message from this year’s report is that rural shops have become even more important during the Covid pandemic, retailers now have even closer relationship with their customers, are employing more people, are taking part in even more community activity, and offer a range of wider and more powerful range of services than ever. These businesses have been crucial at a time when more people are feeling isolated due to the pandemic.”

Additional key findings from this year’s report include:

  • Rural shops provide local, flexible and secure employment for over 126,000 people
  • Rural shops have invested over £197m in their businesses over the last year
  • Four out of five (79%) rural shops are actively engaged in their communities, with almost half of rural shops (42%) making donations to a local food bank over the last year
  • 21% of rural shops now provide a home delivery service of groceries in their local area

Mr Lowman continued: “Despite still being hampered by less reliable transport links, patchy mobile connectivity and slower internet access compared to the rest of the UK, rural shops are investing in technology and services to improve their businesses and their offer for customers, but we need more support from Government to ensure that rural shops are not left playing catch up through no fault of their own.”

As part of the Rural Shop Report launch, ACS chief executive James Lowman took part in a virtual study tour with Christine Hope from award winning rural shop Hopes of Longtown, discussing how the business has responded to the pandemic, tailoring the store’s offer to its’ customer base, and how the shop works with local suppliers.