The story of Margaret and Roy Ward
This account of Margaret and Roy’s time with the Slaley Shop, and how they have contributed to life in Slaley was originally published in the St Mary’s church newsletter in 2006 (before an MBE was awarded to Margaret) by Janis Irvine. We have reproduced it here to inform readers, and for newcomers to the village.
Supporting community life is one of the aims and challenges of ministry and, at their best, this is what many churches try to do. It is a role that, until a hundred years ago, was a much stronger role than it is today in that it was often the Church which provided the teacher and classroom to give local children an education; it was often the Church Council which saw to the maintenance of roads and footpaths; the Church which provided help with form filling etc. or acted as advocates to those who could not read and it was often the Church which administered charitable funds and distributed these to the poor and destitute. The parish system itself is based on the areas drawn up by the Church all over Britain over a thousand years ago.
While many of these functions are now dealt with by secular bodies, including our present-day civil parish councils, there remains much charitable work that is still carried out by volunteers within churches, from soup kitchens for the destitute and lunch clubs for the elderly to youth befriending schemes and ministers who give advice and support to farmers through the Farm Crisis Network.
However, there are many individuals who also give of their time and skills, often over a lifetime, to help and support the complicities in which they live. This story is about two of these people. It is a story that has been told before but, like all the best stories, it is worth repeating. It is also a very remarkable story worth telling to all those who have moved into the parish in the last few years. It is the story of Margaret and Roy Ward who run Slaley’s village shop and post office.
Roy came to Slaley in 1964 as a teenager together with his father and mother who took over Slaley’s shop and post office. Some years later Roy married Margaret Barker, a local lass, and together they helped Roy’s parents run the business. In those days before the advent of a car for every household and before out-of-town shopping centres, the local store provided most of the household necessities for many Slaley families. The shop day was a busy one but nonetheless Margaret and Roy had every Bank Holiday as their time off – but this lasted only for the first two years of their married life. Since then to this day, Margaret and Roy have only had Christmas Day to themselves in each year – for thirty- four years!
Margaret and Roy’s weekly work-load is quite awesome. Every day of the week sees a 6.30am start at the shop when they sort the papers and then Margaret goes out to deliver to the village, Slaley Hall and the Time-share chalets and then on down the Riding Mill road, returning for 9am. Roy then takes over the car to deliver to Colpitts and Hexhamshire while Margaret starts her work serving in the shop and post-office. It is in Hexhamshire that the Wards actually have their home though they have precious little time there to enjoy it.
The shop and post office are closed for lunch between 1pm and 2pm with an afternoon closing of 5.30pm from Monday to Friday but Margaret cannot leave until the post office accounts balance, the money is cashed up and the daily reports are completed. Wednesdays evenings are the post office weekly balance nights which can keep Margaret at the shop until 7.30pm or even later. Roy doesn’t escape either as he does the shop accounts on Tuesday evenings. Roy also travels to Consett for fruit and vegetables and on Thursdays does the weekly run to the Cash & Carry at Batley in Durham.
On Saturdays the shop and post office close at 12.30pm but magazines and papers left over must be totted up for return to the wholesaler. With luck, Margaret and Roy can be away by 2.30pm but, as usual, they will be back for 6.30am on Sunday morning when they deliver the Sunday papers to a1l their customers outside Slaley returning to the shop for the opening to Slaley customers from 10.30am to lagoon. After this Margaret and Roy take a well-earned lunch with Margaret’s mother up at Trygill. Here Margaret can catch up with family news for Margaret is one of eleven children, nine of whom are still alive. All of Margaret’s siblings live in the area and she has a great many nephews and nieces so there is a lot of news to catch up on!
Life may have changed and Hexham and its shops may be only a fifteen-minute drive away but Slaley’s shop and post office are still a life-line to a great many people in the village. There are the many elderly people who can manage the walk up the village’s main street but would find busses and shopping in Hexham just a bit too much to cope with. There are the busy young mums who pop in on their way to and from the school collection, there are the local farm lads who might park their tractors to pop in for a cold drink or chocolate bar and there are the local delivery people who might stop for a daily paper or a quick snack. Margaret can help them all.
In the seven years David and I have been in these parishes we have seen Edmundbyers lose its shop and post office and currently Blanchland is without its paper shop. Customers from both these parishes come to Slaley for their daily papers. It is a sobering thought that of the seven parishes where David ministers, Slaley is the only one left to have a local shop and post office – that is in 120 square miles.
Margaret and Roy have given a life-time’s service to this community – quite literally. It is a service that is often taken for granted and is unlikely ever to be repeated. It is also a service that could never be adequately repaid and it is a service which is infinitely precious. Slaley’s shop and post office is one of the gifts of this village, alongside its pubs and its churches, that actually help to give it its village status. Without these it becomes just another dwelling place.
Please remember this story next time you pop in to Slaley’s shop and post-office!
[Janis Irvine, July 2006]