Hugh Bonneville reads Queen's Award for Voluntary Service citation as Sussex village celebrates saving its post office and general store

The remarkable achievements of the residents of a Sussex village who saved their post office and shop were celebrated with the presentation of the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service.

Without warning, the village lost the vital facility when Findon Post Office was closed overnight in May 2017 but the shocked villagers soon rallied and, thanks to the vision of the parish council chairman at the time, were inspired to buy the store themselves and run it as a community co-operative. It has survived through the pandemic, thanks to an army of volunteers, and continues to offer a wealth of support, including Christmas hampers for families in need.

Lady Emma Barnard, Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex, described it as 'absolutely extraordinary' as she presented the award at Findon Village Hall on Monday afternoon. She said: "This is volunteering at its most splendid and most meaningful, and it almost brought a tear to my eye. You are an example to us all. You are the glue that has kept this community together. It is an extraordinary achievement."

Steve Smith, former chairman, accepted the award on behalf of the management team and other volunteers. He said it was 'the remarkable support of the community' that kept the store going. He added: "This award is really for nearly everybody here, all the people who donated their money to make this happen. It has become the real heart of the village. It supports so many people in so many ways. The very best thing is that if it makes any money, it gives it away and long may that continue, it is part of what it does."

It was Peter Goldsworthy, former chairman of Findon Parish Council, who led the campaign to save the shop, though he had to step back after 18 months due to ill health. It was considered vital, as without it, the nearest convenience shop was more than a mile away, in Findon Valley. With Peter's leadership and determination, £450,000 was raised in four weeks, after the shop was shut on May 29, 2017 – enough for the village to stand a good chance of buying it when it came up for auction on June 30, 2017.

The minimum was £1,000 and about 250 people gave that amount, with others giving much larger pledges. Peter added: "The auctioneer said it was the first time a roar went up when the hammer went down." Findon Village Collective took possession of the shop and post office, plus a flat, which now provides social housing. Volunteers refurbished the premises and began trading six months later, in October 2017.

Findon Village Store is open every day except Christmas and is now a thriving and successful venture, with all profits being returned to the community. The shop has even become a tourist attraction, with visitors receiving a warm welcome.

The Post Office counter is run by paid staff and everything else is done by volunteers. Patrick Colville, chairman, described them as 'a great team with a rich variety of life and professional skills, who share their time and talents willingly and generously'.