Neil Cottrell, owner, Boxford Stores, Suffolk

The Daily Telegraph
17 June 2017

Boxford Stores has a trading history dating back to 1420. It’s thought to be the oldest shop in Britain, but for the two years before my business partner and I bought it in 2015, it had fallen on hard times. The previous owner had died and, although the Post Office remained open, there was no interest in keeping the shop going.

A friend approached me with the idea of running it, and originally I was to be the sleeping partner. I already owned The Village Deli in nearby Bures with my sisters. But it wasn’t as easy as he thought it was going to be. There was a lot of work that needed doing to the Grade II listed shop and I ended up being much more involved. For the past nine months it has just been me.

Retirement job: Neil Cottrell

The shop is vital to the life of the village. There is a convenience store opposite, but Boxford Stores is the only place you can buy decent cheese or good vegetables. Otherwise you have to travel five miles on the bus.

From the beginning, it was important to me to have higher-quality produce. We stock good ham, pies, fruit and veg, olives, vinegars, proper bread. I get free-range eggs from a friend and my sisters make quiches and cakes. The only thing we sell the same as the convenience store is milk. People used to want the convenience of ready meals, but now they want fresh food. They are more considerate of what they put in their bodies.

For me, the shop is a hobby. I live 10 minutes away and my main business is batteries for forklift trucks. During the week some of the ladies from the village work in the shop. I also have four teenage daughters, and it’s a good way for them to learn about work.

The only time I’m behind the counter is on Saturdays. I enjoy it, and it means I have a relationship with the villagers. It’s hard work, but we are growing.

We recently started doing newspaper deliveries. There is an older fraternity who appreciate that service. I think the store will always be about that, rather than purely about making money. If it was about profit then we wouldn’t do it. The history of the shop is also important in Boxford. A couple of Saturdays ago a bloke came into the shop from Australia; his family are buried in the churchyard.

I enjoy my time in the store. I have a chat to the regulars and it’s good fun. I’m 50 now and batteries are heavy, so this could be a nice retirement job.

Swan Street, Boxford, Sudbury CO10 5PA. Interview by Boudicca Fox-Leonard