Peter Jones, ViRSA's Director, provided this information for us in November 2002:

ViRSA's principle objective remains the same today, that is community involvement in reviving or regenerating rural retail services especially the village shop and post office. Regrettably, ViRSA's founder Derek Smith died in 1997, the year that the organisation was granted charitable status.

At the time of his death there were three outworkers, or field workers as they are now called, covering England and Wales and an office that functioned on minimal resources and funds. From 1987 through to 1988 the Trust survived an awkward time as it lacked consolidated full time management. In 1998 I was recruited as the permanent director of the Trust and, although I am not a retailer I have extensive management experience coupled with empathy for the retention of village facilities and these facets I use to keep the Trust objective alive. Later that year the office had to move from our founder's farmhouse at Halstock as Alison Smith, Derek's widow, placed the property on the market. ViRSA moved to Dorchester, the county town of Dorset, and the location details are shown below.

I recruited a part time Assistant Director and retained the services of the original secretary who worked with the founder. In the last four years ViRSA's name has become increasingly well known in many circles including the all-important political arena. The number of field workers has been increased to fourteen and coverage is provided for the whole of England. The recent loss of coverage for Wales will be rectified when I recruit two replacement field workers to start in that area in 2003. All the field workers have created excellent networks in their respective areas to ensure the objectives are met speedily at no cost to the small communities. Just over 60 community-owned, managed and financed village shops have been created with assistance from ViRSA's unique service. The office receives more than 300 enquiries each year and this high level of interest is a credit to all the field workers who seek, for scant reward, to proffer community assistance.

The parlous state of the United Kingdom's post office network has created dire concerns over the last three years and much staff effort has been spent actively seeking solutions to the problem of declining services. The loss of the post office in a small village will mean the inevitable decline also of the shop so I am keen to ensure that post office closures are avoided wherever possible.

Whilst the village shop is a focal point for villages there is now more lateral thinking towards the provision of retail services. The "hub" concept using, for instance, the village hall for a retail outlet or adapting the local pub or threatened rural garage businesses are all options that are being considered. The increasing interest in the provision of locally grown foodstuffs is to be encouraged as too is the commercial application of the internet as an ordering and supply mechanism.

ViRSA has created an ancillary organisation to complement the Trust activity. The Rural Shops Alliance (RSA) ( is a membership organisation to enable rural retailers to have an outlet for their opinions to both local and national government. Whilst providing an identity for the rural retailer the RSA is able to create the opportunity to give business enhancement training to go some way towards ensuring that businesses succeed rather than fail. The failure of the rural business would entail the community in picking up the pieces. To date just over one third of all rural retailers in the United Kingdom have been signed up and with the assistance of premier supply companies that provide the majority of the RSA funding the concept is thriving and growing.

ViRSA faces the next ten years in a time of change as the Government's attitude towards the countryside changes. The links between urban and rural activities will be enhanced. The small rural communities will remain vulnerable and ViRSA will look forward to playing its part in helping them. Funding for the Trust will continue to be a challenge to the Board of ten Trustees and it is hoped that some support will be obtained from our Government sources. Times may be hard but our optimism does not wane.

The ViRSA Educational Charitable Trust, Unit 4, The Little Keep, Bridport Road, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1SQ, UK; Tel: (00 44) 305 259383, e-mail

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