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Almost five years after opening its doors, a grocery shop at the site of specialist accommodation for the visually impaired is going from strength to strength thanks to six tireless volunteers.

The convenience store opened in March 2011 at Wolverhampton’s 71-bed Beacon Court complex. Sitting adjacent to the Beacon Centre for the Blind, Beacon Court is one of two Extra Care facilities operated by Bromford and has care facilities on site for its 80 residents.

Scheme manager Jo Wright decided to turn the largely unused space into a thriving community shop and up stepped a group of dedicated residents – all living with visual impairments – to take over the day-to-day running of it.

“I said to my manager one day: “I’m sure we could do something better with that space and something which involved the residents” and so we turned it into a little grocery store,” Jo explained.

“I order the goods on my procurement card every week and do the banking but everything else the residents do themselves – the working rotas, the shop layout, all the transactions and of course feedback on what is selling and what isn’t.”

The team of six are a variety of ages – ranging from 61-year-old Jayne Cook to stalwart Ruth Beardsmore, who celebrated her 90th birthday in November and is still going strong. The other four volunteers are Glynis Guest, 66, Carol Stone, 72, Marjorie Parton, 80 and Davina Hill, 83.

The shop, which is next-door to the centre’s hair and beauty salon and opposite the café and restaurant, is open for two hours each day and stocks a wide range of basic household provisions. These include tinned foods, cereal, sugar, bleach, toiletries, tea and coffee, cakes, biscuits, greetings cards and lightbulbs as well as fresh fruit and salad on Thursdays. They operate a cash-only policy and even people from outside of the centre visit to stock up on food and other essentials.

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Jo, who has worked at Bromford for the past eight years, said: “It’s evolved over time. At first the shop was open all day but after the ladies came and told me the afternoons were pretty quiet, we changed the opening times to each morning between 10am and midday. It’s a little community hub and you walk past most days and see five or six people in there at any one time having a chat or browsing the items.”

All Beacon Court residents have a visual impairment and the store is considered a “lifeline” for those who can’t rely on family members to regularly stock them with essential provisions.

“We’re a great little team and we change our rotas depending on need as we have plenty of busy days,” Carol said.

“We watch for trends and listen to requests if we don’t stock a particular item. Our biggest seller is definitely the bottles of bleach which we sell for £1 and the packs of toilet rolls which are £1.99. Biscuits are also very popular!

“A customer came in this very morning and said to me that she doesn’t know what she would do if the shop ever closed – it really is a lifeline for people.”

And Ruth, who has no plans of relinquishing her duties despite reaching her milestone birthday, added: “It’s lovely to meet with people and be useful while staying here. It keeps my mind very active and that’s important because if you’re just going to sit in an apartment all day you’re going to go downhill very fast.”

Money taken goes back into Bromford to replenish stock and as the shop approaches its fifth anniversary, the ladies are hoping to secure some funding to give it a revamp.

“I’d love a bit of funding to refit the shop and reward the ladies for all their hard work,” Jo concluded. “It would be nice to give it a makeover and transform the frontage so it looks a bit more shop-like. The first five years have been really successful and I’m sure it will still be here in another five years.”


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