A Little Shop with a Huge Heart Lisburn’s Windmill Supershop
A community-centred approach to convenience
Jonny and Claire Oates have owned and run the Windmill Supershop just outside Lisburn city centre for the past 15 years. The y took over the little corner shop back in 2006, along with Claire’s mum. During that time, they have created a real hub for the community with the feel of a corner shop you would have found in the 50’s but with the products and services to suit the modern shopper.
“There was lots of competition locally from supermarkets and the larger convenience stores so we had to find something tht would make us different,” said Jonny.
What made the Windmill unique was its unrivalled focus on simply being a community shop – right at the heart of the local community.
“We realised early on that this wasn’t just a corner shop with people coming in and out. We quickly realised how important it was to the community – especially to the older people who wanted to come in and have a chat,” explained Jonny.
That’s really sweet
“We wanted to make sure that every customer felt welcome – so we put a little bowl of sweets on the counter each day – something we do ‘til this day. Customers just appreciate that – it’s something small but we’re giving something back.”
It wasn’t until Covid hit and the first full lockdown that the Windmill Superstore really came in to its own – especially for older, isolated and vulnerable people.
“When Covid hit, it through us in to a different stratosphere. Suddenly we were doing deliveries right across Lisburn.
“I became part of the local community task force – a group that consisted of local councillors, politicians, food bank co-ordinator amd we set out a plan to make sure every vulnerable and elderly person was looked after.
“A lot of the local shops were not prepared to delivery to the door – some were doing click and collect but we were delivering to the door for free.
“Councillors and MLAs were contacting me for their constituents that didn’t have access to online shopping – many older, infirm or vulnerable people don’t even own a computer or have the skills or know-how. They could pick up the phone and place their order, and I’d get in the car and make the delivery – but without contact.
“we continued delivering forty to fifty orders a week for the elderly and vulnerable = .
“We’re just a wee corner shop open from 7am to 8pm in a row of shops, beside a chippy, Chinese takeaway, off licence. We may be just around 600 square feet but we did everything we could to make sure the local community was looked after. I was even doing deliveries to Hillsborough. I was getting calls from as far away as Banbridge.
“We’re just a small shop but people seemed to know we’d do what we could and we linked with local Nisa and EUROSPAR close by, as they couldn’t deliver to the doorstep,” said Jonny.
Ballymacash is a close knit community estate on the edge of the small city of Lisburn.
Jonny had a retail background, previously with Lifestyle Sports, and his wife was a hotel receptionist – but they love running the Windmill Superstore and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Supershop to Costcutter
“Supershop is a small brand but we’re changing soon to become a Costcutter. When Covid came along, we really came in to our own – and now we’ve got some new refrigeration that enables us to stock more lines, more fresh meat and vegetables.
“We also got another till put in because our absolute focus and commitment is on the customer – if an older person wants to stand at the till and have a chat, we know that we might be the only person they talk to all day – so those little conversations mean the world. Having an extra till now means we can let the other customers get away – while we chat to the older person who just needs a bit more time.”
The store has become the go to place for the community, whether that’s for their groceries, info and advice or support for local initiatives and charities.
The couple have worked hard to support the charities and initiatives that are close to their community, these have included supporting the Lisburn branch of the Parkinson’s society and the local cancer support services, with donation tins and fundraising activities. They work closely with the Ballymacash Community Association, which promotes cultural awareness. Another is the local Community Rescue Service, which is dedicated to helping people suffering from poor mental health.
The community has been deeply affected by the pandemic. With many people out of work or shielding, Jonny and Claire saw first-hand how parents were unable to feed their families. By working with local food banks, local councillors and community leaders they were actively involved with the local covid taskforce to get food parcels out to most in need.
Quickly recognising that elderly and vulnerable people who were shielding were struggling to get into the store and were unfamiliar with online shopping, the team distributed 1,000 leaflets offering telephone ordering, free delivery and no minimum spend. Keen to make the process as easy as possible the couple set up mobile payments and personally delivered provisions to the most vulnerable, ensuring they were greeted by a familiar and friendly face. For those in financial difficulty who only had a couple of pounds for essential items, the couple produced food parcels and topped them up from the in-store food bank ensuring they would not go without.
Jonny and Claire are totally committed to supporting their local community and have raised over £60,000 for local causes through national lottery sales and donation tins and have also donated around £2,500 in products. This figure really doesn’t reflect the true level of their commitment, which has seen them working ridiculously long hours to ensure that no one in their community goes without or feels alone.
They really are the definition of Covid Champions in their local community – and a true reflection of what neighbourhood retailing is all about.