27th May 2018
By Graham Smith
The immediate future of the Tywardreath village shop – and repayment of more than 150 personal “pledges” which financed its purchase – remains unclear after a meeting yesterday (Saturday) heard that talks about a possible new owner were continuing.
More than 60 people packed into Tywardreath village hall to hear shop owners Trudy Thompson and Josh Taylor present an update on the venture’s progress. Their Hunter Grange Investments Ltd company bought the shop business in 2016 after raising £470,000 from the local community, but some people were concerned when they saw the shop advertised for sale recently.
More than half of the original “pledges” – which Ms Thompson describes as loans, secured by her personal guarantee, rather than a Land Registry charge against the shop – have already been repaid. But 151 are still outstanding, with some of those falling due for repayment in the coming months. The original prospectus offered to pay 6% interest over two years. Ms Thompson said the shop is no longer on the market.
Much of yesterday’s two-hour meeting was taken up with discussion about how local anxiety about the shop’s future erupted into a social media campaign, with some “pledgers” establishing their own Facebook page to question the financial background to Hunter Grange Investments Ltd while Ms Thompson and Mr Taylor hit back with their own newsletters. Ms Thompson has spoken of a “toxic feud” in Tywardreath and described her critics as “insects.”
The overwhelming sentiment of those who attended the meeting was supportive of Ms Thompson and Mr Taylor, with several people speaking of “harassment and intimidation” against the pair. Some suggested that Ms Thompson should report the online campaigns to the police.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting urged Ms Thompson and Mr Taylor to ignore social media posts and just keep on running the shop, which appears to be a well-stocked and well-used flourishing local business.
“That shop is a goldmine,” said Ms Thompson, saying that she hoped eventually to repay the remaining pledgers out of shop profits. “Turnover has grown spectacularly since we took over,” she said. “That village shop is one of the best-performing little businesses in Cornwall.”
A few people asked some pointed questions about the company’s accounts, but only one man said he was “disappointed” that Ms Thompson could still not say when his pledge, which had been due for repayment two months ago, would be returned to him. “The money I gave you was a loan,” he said. “It should have been paid back, and it hasn’t been. That’s not very businesslike.”
Ms Thompson said she was sorry but promised that every pledger would get their money back eventually. “We could put the business into voluntary liquidation, and then there would be plenty of cash to go round, but you wouldn’t have a shop,” she said.
Above: one of the social media platforms which has been asking questions about the Tywardreath village shop
A number of people at the meeting said the shop was very important to them and they had been concerned when they saw it was for sale. “Someone might buy it and turn it into a house,” said one.
Ms Thompson urged the meeting to consider registering the shop as a community asset, adding that as a result of “testing the market” with an estate agent, a potential local buyer had come forward. Ms Thompson said she was also considering a mortgage, which would allow her to repay her pledgers.
She said she had been offered further “personal pledges” but was reluctant to accept new individual loans until peace had been restored to the local community. She said she now was writing a book. After the meeting she told Cornwall Reports that it could be weeks, or months, before there were significant new developments. “I’m just going to have a good summer in the shop, I think,” she said. “That’s it.”
Some of the pledgers who are unhappy about the situation have instructed a solicitor to try to recover their loans.
Cornwall councillor Andy Virr, in his capacity as an active member of the local community, has spoken of the need for a “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” and has offered to broker peace talks.