The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) has highlighted the indispensable contribution of rural shops to thousands of communities across the UK with the launch of its 2024 Rural Shop Report.

Unveiled in the UK’s parliament, the report sheds light on the multifaceted role played by the UK’s 17,986 rural shops, portraying them as secure local employers, entrepreneurs collaborating with local businesses, and essential service providers.

Key findings from the 2024 Rural Shop Report:

  • Employment impact: Rural shops collectively employ more than 170,000 individuals, with the majority living nearby, allowing them to walk to work.
  • Essential service providers: According to the report, rural consumers consider convenience stores as the most crucial service in their local areas.
  • Community engagement: More than four in five independent retailers in rural areas actively participated in various community activities in the past year, positioning themselves at the heart of their respective communities.
  • Economic contributions: Rural shops generated a substantial £17.1bn ($21.68bn) in sales and contributed more than £3.8bn to gross value added in the previous year.

The Rural Shop Report underscores the vital role played by convenience retailers in supplying essential goods and services to their communities. However, the report also highlights the significant challenges faced by stores in rural and isolated areas.

As part of the report’s launch, the ACS is engaging with Members of Parliament (MPs) in the country to discuss potential governmental actions to support rural shops. The aim is to establish a level playing field between rural businesses and their more urban counterparts.

A vital role in rural communities: combating isolation and loneliness

The ACS’ CEO James Lowman emphasised the impact of rural shops, stating: “Rural shops make a huge difference locally, as a social hub, a stable employer, and a provider of essential services that would otherwise not be available at all.”

He called on MPs to address challenges such as shop theft and abuse, better access to cash for customers, and enhance digital infrastructure to enable rural shops to modernise their businesses.

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Kerry Booth, CEO of the Rural Services Network, expressed delight in supporting the launch of the Rural Shop Report.

Booth acknowledged the critical role played by rural shops in reducing isolation and loneliness, enabling residents to access services that might be otherwise unavailable due to poor connectivity or lack of transport links.