This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of Greetings today magazine as part of Chris Fox’s “On the Line” column.

I sometimes feel like the 70’s cartoon character Mr Benn. That at the back of Wishes there is a magic door which once opened, changes me into a different person. So, for today’s adventure I will be: “Chris Fox, Chair of Cudworth Businesses & Community Together”. Yes, for this month’s column I’m putting on my community association hat.

Now I’m not suggesting you should set up a community association. It’s certainly not for everybody and every area is different. We’re lucky in Cudworth to still have a vibrant and busy high street. However, it’s not all sunshine and lollypops. Our shop continues to go from strength to strength but things can always be improved. We don‘t rest on our laurels here at Wishes, basking in past glories, no, we look to the future and continue to try and innovate. Which all sounds very grand but sometimes small things can have an impact, especially if you work with your local community towards a common goal. The formation of our community group has opened many doors however we’ve had to deal with some, well let’s say, “interesting” problems along the way. Despite this, there are some great benefits for our shop and wider community.

Julia Keeling Christmas Lights

One of the main projects we’ve been working on is raising money to buy new Christmas Lights for Cudworth’s high street. Last year was the last time Cudworth had Christmas Lights as they were declared to be naff and no longer fit for purpose. Unless the community raised the money needed, the village would miss out. We‘ve gone old school, with raffles and collection tubs in our Cudworth shops. To compliant this we’ve set up a CrowdFunder campaign to get the pennies in online.

As I write this article it’s the end of July and we’ve 32 days left of the campaign with £2,800 raised of our £4,500 target. We’re 62% towards our goal but with 980 project views our conversation rates are quite low. Which is true of most online traffic I guess. Most of the views are from people directly going on to the CrowdFunder website with a surprising statistic of just 15% of traffic coming from Facebook, when I would have expected more. I’m always slightly dubious of statistics and whilst a smarter person would point to the power of good analytics, sometimes you can get bogged down in such things.

CrowdFunder Cudworth

One thing that’s really helped is people picking up the campaign and running their own spin offs. We’ve seen Cudworth residents running Facebook raffles and money pools, with the proceeds donated into the CrowdFunder. A gift of some official shirts from Yorkshire County Cricket Club has seen a member of our group selling raffle tickets online and collecting the money via the CrowdFunder. A big bonus was quality for matched funding from Barnsley Council through an initiative called the Barnsley Boost which we hope will add up to £2000 into our Christmas Light pot. The key here is that as we’ve built momentum, it’s hit people outside of our network and brought in a wider audience. The power of the Internet.

I’ll say it again: Working together is good. And inspiring too. Look at the “Just a Card” campaign. Founded by Artist & Designer Sarah Hamilton to support shopping in independent shops and galleries by reinforcing the message that every single card sale helps a small business service. The campaign helps linked up shops that feel isolated plus gives them much need moral support and tips. If you struggle to find a network group in the real world there’s plenty of virtual communities online.

One story highlighted by the campaign recently hit the news when a Tweet from Imagined Things Bookshop in Harrogate went viral. Shop owner Georgia Duffy tweeted that “We only took £12.34 today…if anyone was thinking about buying a book now would be a great time! Things have been tough recently – today the worst day ever. A card, a book, anything makes a huge difference to a small business like ours. We’d be very grateful for your support.”

The impact was amazing as within the day the Tweet had received over 150,000 impressions on Twitter. A day the shop called its worst ever was followed by one of its best, with many people phoning up and ordering books. The story was shared onto the Just a Card social media platforms which extended the number of people engaged. The upshot was hundreds of indie businesses reaching out to each other and offering advice and encouragement. Plus, some lovely book sales for the shop. After so much negatively about social media, it’s great to see such a feel-good story in the news. Sometimes you just need to hear “Keep going, you can do it”.

Santa at Local Event

Back to Mr Ben and dressing up, we’ve a fancy-dress “pub crawl” lined up soon. We’re hitting the local drinking establishments with our collection tubs, suited up as Santa and Elves. Handing out leaflets for the CrowdFunder and trying to raise local support. On that day I’ll walk through the magic door and reappear as Bunworth the Cudworth Bunny, which I fear may make some people think they’ve had far too many shandies. But it’s all for the team and the community. Only together can we make sure Cudworth is lit up this Christmas. That’s worth dressing up as a giant rabbit, don’t you think?

The internet is a wonderful tool but can be scary if you don’t know how to make the best use of it. In this series of articles retailer Chris Fox, from Wishes Of Cudworth aim to pass on all the online tips he’s discovered so far to help independent retailers boost their bricks and mortar business in the digital age. This article was originally published in Greetings Today Magazine.