A village convenience store is proving to be a shining beacon of community hope in Walkern during the coronavirus pandemic. Award-winning Hertfordshire businesswoman Helen Froggett-Thomson reports.

The Comet: Sanjay and Rishi Chandarana from Walkern Budgens. Picture: supplied by Helen Froggett- ThomsonSanjay and Rishi Chandarana from Walkern Budgens. Picture: supplied by Helen Froggett- Thomson (Image: Helen Froggett- Thomson)

“They are a lifeline.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without them, my family are miles away and can’t help.”‘

“We’ve not stockpiled so we desperately need supplies regularly.”

“Amazing people. Thank you so much. Your stars. When this is over I will still be shopping with yourselves rather than huge shops now.”

Just a few of the comments we’ve heard about a ‘local’ village shop in north Hertfordshire.

Budgens in Walkern has been a family-owned shop for about 15 years.

Team Chandarana includes mother and father, Seema and Paresh Chandarana, and two sons, Rishi and Sanjay.

While Paresh and Seema are generally found behind the tills of the shop and post office counter, the family team have been proving their evident commitment to the local community in these trying times, helping those in need as a priority.

Having only recently become part of the Budgens network, which required a big refit and extension nine months ago, the shop has become invaluable, and not just to its immediate vicinity.

The shop has been taking telephone and email orders, carefully and patiently checking suitability of substitutes if they cost more than expected with their elderly and vulnerable customers, and personally delivering, over and over again, all day, every day.

Starting work at 6am and finishing late in the evening, they have been ensuring their shop is properly stocked – they even have plain flour, wholemeal bread flour, self-raising flour, gluten free self-raising flour and fresh yeast.

They have been collecting regular supplies with the voluntary help of the van of the builder who transformed their premises, David McAdam of DMC Construction in Letchworth.

In fact, a whole army of volunteers has sprung up to help the shop which is delivering to people well outside its usual catchment, and if they are elderly or in isolation, free of charge. And often on the same day.

“We started using Budgens as a supplier about nine months ago, but it’s the local suppliers that have come through, they’re the ones who can adapt,” said Rishi Chandarana.

“Our meat suppliers, Bridget B’s and Just William, have come through for us.

“A lot of my customers are over 70 and they’ve had to self-isolate. Supermarket slots have been taken over by the younger people who are more tech savvy.

“My customers were left vulnerable as they are not hoarding, they’re buying stuff just to keep them going for three or four days.

“We can adapt as I can get their supplies to them within a day.

“We make extra effort for the over 70s. I’ve found that if we get calls from Stevenage or Weston, or something outside our usual radius, and they are old and they desperately need something, we still drop it off.

“They’ve been super grateful. They are willing to have substitutes and be happy to have 80 per cent of their items.

“We’ve had great feedback, we’ve been having super, super feedback.

“We leave it on the doorstep, then we call them to make sure they’re happy.

“They are so grateful to just get anything, and like I said, super, super happy.”

Rishi added: “When they ring up I find out where they live, ask them to send me an email if they can, and if there are priorities, say she’s a 90-year-old and she’s desperate, I will get hers out quickly, but in general I will do it in order of the orders as I get them.”

Contact the shop via https://www.facebook.com/BudgensWalkern/ or 01438 860330 or email walkernbudgens@hotmail.com