VILLAGERS hope to raise £250,000 to put the heart back into their rural community by opening a shop, café and history centre.

Last year Cotherstone, in Teesdale, County Durham, lost its village shop, post office and café followed by the closure of its historic Methodist Chapel.

With the chapel on the verge of being sold off for development, a group of residents who wanted to maintain much-needed amenities for the population of 600 formed a voluntary Community Benefit Society.

Its Old Chapel Project aims to convert the 1872 chapel into a shop, café and heritage centre.

Today it launches a community shares scheme and website, aiming to make £100,000 towards the £250,000 project.

People from Teesdale and further afield can buy shares until November 8 and the team hopes to secure grants and donations to reach the total needed.

Chris Tarpey, the project’s chair, said: “The vision is of a community-owned space to enrich the lives of the whole community by offering not just groceries and household goods but a café to bring people together and keep our village alive.

“The Old Chapel will also be a valuable amenity for visitors and will provide an additional attraction for holidaymakers, supporting the other tourist businesses in the local area.”

The shop will sell groceries, local produce and craft and have a sustainable buy and shop local ethos, encouraging recycling and including small business stalls and the café will offer local cakes and savouries for locals and visitors. An architect on the management team aims to renovate the building with an emphasis on green forms of heating and insulation and fit it out with upcycled and repurposed items from the chapel, which was once the village school.

The team, backed by almost 70 volunteers, will also develop The Old Chapel as a heritage venue to celebrate local history with The Village Through Time project giving villagers the opportunity to link censuses, their own house deeds and oral history.

A camera obscura, wildlife web cam and tourist information and guided walks are planned.

Stuart Singleton, the project’s treasurer, said: “We believe that our model for The Old Chapel is the future for communities like ours, linking practical amenities with a community space and a place to celebrate the village’s past and to think about its future. Cotherstone deserves this resource and The Old Chapel will help build the foundations for future generations.”


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