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The Personal is Statistical: Getting more than you bargained for at the Great British corner shop

Posted on 12 October 2017 by Anne Summers, Digital Manager .
Tags: The Personal is Statistical, food, smoking

In our monthly series, The Personal is Statistical, we'll be talking about where statistics have interacted with our personal lives. They are a bit different from the blogs we usually post, but we hope you'll enjoy reading them. In this blog, Anne Summers explains how her local corner shop reflects the changing health and lifestyle choices of the British public.


Anne Summers

The humble British corner shop, always there when you’ve run out of milk or loo roll … or other essentials, like strawberry laces and crisps. When I was growing up in the 80s in the West Midlands our local corner shop was run by a lady called Mrs Everington. Each week I hovered over the sticky penny sweets, agonising over how to spend my pocket money. It’s where my Mum ordered our Christmas turkey.

Fast forward to the 90’s and Dave had taken over the shop, selling newspapers, fags and mags. But not even my persistent under age attempts to buy ciggies could keep ‘Dave’s’ in business and eventually he went bust.

I think the changing fortunes of my small local shop are a good barometer for the changing health and lifestyle choices of the British public.

The decline in readership of print newspapers has been well documented. Unfortunately for Dave, in the 90s the number of people lighting up also started to wane, as evidenced by the Health Survey for England. In 1993 27% of adults were smokers. But by 2015, only 18% were lighting up. And not only that, but amongst those who still smoke, the average number of cigarettes smoked per day has fallen from 15 to 10. It turns out my awkward underage efforts to buy cigarettes were also set to become increasingly rare. The latest Survey of smoking, drinking and drug use among young people shows that since 1996 the number of pupils who have ever tried smoking has reduced by over half from 49% to 18%.

Fast forward to 2017, and ‘Woodfield Stores’, now serving an ageing community, is thriving. The shop’s locally sourced food, especially in the wake of the recent egg scandal, is going down a storm according to the owners. This fits in with what the British Social Attitudes survey tells us about public attitudes to food provenance. When we asked what issues matter to people when buying food, it’s clear that people aged 60 and over are much more concerned about the origins and preparation of their food.

Cornershop Image

SOURCE: British Social Attitudes 33, Food: Views on the food supply chain, 2016.


But is the renaissance of my local corner shop going to be cut short? It’s clear that the shop’s stock of fancy wines and ales is propping up business. Should the Government and NHS decide to challenge the social acceptability of middle class, middle aged problem drinking, Woodfield Stores could be in trouble again. We know from the Health Survey for England that it is well-off people aged 55 to 64 who are most at risk of drinking too much in an average week, not the young or less well-off. Obviously this needs to be tackled. The dreadful physical and mental problems caused by alcoholism, manifested in someone who is also aging, are likely to be harder to treat.

And yet I really hope my local corner shop carries on doing well, in one way or another. I still think of it as ‘Mrs Everington’s’ and it makes me happy to see kids in there spending their pocket money. In fact, I’ll probably pop in when I next go home to see my mum.    

Follow me on Twitter: @anne_trafford

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