Bluntisham - The co-operative filling station local people DO want

A BURGEONING group of businesses in Bluntisham could point the way to a new model for the traditional village high street.

A BURGEONING group of businesses in Bluntisham could point the way to a new model for the traditional village high street.

The development of businesses clustered around the forecourt of the BP service station on Station Road includes a butcher’s shop, ladies’ and gents’ hairdressers, beauty salon, fitness studio, caf� and supermarket.

The businesses were chosen after a survey showed they were services Bluntisham residents wanted in their village, and the site was opened by MP Shailesh Vara on July 2.

Site owner Steve Highland said the site was responding to demand.

“I saw that Bluntisham and Earith were losing many of their facilities, but the shop at the garage had grown too big. When we got planning permission build a shop twice as big, we put the old premises to use to give people what they wanted.

“The top five requests were for the services we now have.”

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Though owned and run separately, the businesses market themselves as a single entity, taking advertising together and sharing business experience gleaned from their diverse backgrounds.

Mrs Bennett, who owns The Lounge caf� with her husband Nik, said the businesses had been working together for their collective benefit, with regular forum meetings planned.

“We all have different types of experience and, as we aren’t in competition with each other, we can advise each other,” she said. “After all, it’s in all our interests to make our businesses successful.”

Where possible, the businesses work together: customers waiting for their appointment at the hairdresser can walk next door for a ham sandwich at The Lounge, with meat supplied by Peter Joyce’s Bluntisham Butchers.

Mrs Bennett added: “The more people we bring here for one service, the more potential there is for them to find out about the others.

“Encouraging people to find out about the service station ensures people know that all the businesses are here.”

The service station development is also home to The Village Barbers and the Vibe Studio, fledgling businesses owned by mothers Kate Thomas and Rachel Sly.

The pair decided to start their own business after seeing the potential at the site, and have been fitting shifts at their ventures in between the school run since they opened in April.

“We get a really diverse group using the studio – we have everyone from a 94-year-old lady to a 16-year-old lad coming down regularly. People like the convenience – they can have a haircut, a workout and a coffee and be home in an hour,” said Ms Sly.

The early success of the venture has already piqued the interest of others keen to get involved.

Helen Benetton, who runs Benetton’s Hairdressers with husband Martyn, said she had been searching for the right premises in Bluntisham for a long time, and moved quickly when the opportunity arose to move into the service station.

“We were lucky to get in early. It works so well with the other businesses – we all opened at similar times, and we help each other out. There’s been a lot of interest from other businesses.”

Operating effectively as a village high street in miniature, the businesses have attempted to support the nearby community by sourcing products, tradesmen and services locally.

They also support the village school, sponsor the Party in the Park event and even stood in as a makeshift village hall when the Women’s Institute needed a location for its games night.

Mrs Bennett added: “We’ve all had village support, but with it being a petrol station too we of course get customers coming from further afield. The response has been brilliant – people don’t expect to see these businesses on a forecourt – but it seems to be working.”

All this is a far cry from the Rainbow in St Ives, where the Co-operative’s plans for a filling station have angered many neighbours. A planning inspector’s decision on that one is eagerly awaited.