Open all hours

Words by:
Kate Chapman
Featured in:
February 2023

Jenny Ward reflects on running her popular village store near Louth for the past 50 years. By Kate Chapman.

She’s been at the heart of village life for 50 years, keeping her customers supplied with their everyday essentials and helping out in many other ways – and shopkeeper Jenny Ward loves every minute of it.

The 71-year-old took over the village store in Donington-on-Bain, near Louth, on 13th January 1973, and celebrated five decades behind the counter earlier this year. But despite all the hard work, long hours and only having one day off a year, she has no desire to retire.

If anything, Jenny’s even more determined to keep serving the customers she refers to as her family, while her milestone anniversary has also inspired her to write a book about her time in the shop.

Just Ask Jenny – the title of which refers to how she is the first port of call for anyone in the village who wants a tradesman, contact number or bit of local information – contains snippets of life and photos from the past five decades, with half the profits going to the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance appeal.

“Talking to customers, getting what they want, I love it all, that’s been my life for the last 50 years,” says Jenny, who has two children, five grandchildren and has recently become a great-grandmother for the first time.

“I have my own family and my shop family, although sadly a lot of them have passed on now. Some people come in two or three times a day, sometimes just for a chat.

“There’s nothing I dislike, you just get on with it. I just love the job so much and the people. It all keeps me going, I’d be bored if I retired. No two days are ever the same.”

New challenges
Jenny and husband Eric, who sadly passed away 16 years ago, took on the shop, which trades under the name J Ward, when they were looking for a new challenge after selling their arable farm in nearby Goulceby.

“We were driving through when we saw the shop was up for sale – we knew we wanted to do something different, so we decided to take a look and bought it within three months,” she recalls.

“It was very run down, there was only about £120 worth of goods on the shelves, so we soon had to get to the cash and carry to stock up.

“I remember it was very cold. There was no heating, so we had to get a big Rayburn. We were cold for a month, and the place needed decorating. Our children, Jackie and David, were small at the time – only 11 months and two years old – so they went to stay with their grandparents while we decorated the house, which was next door to the shop.

“Eric was a bit fresh when it came to shopkeeping – he’d never done it before. We had a little mobile van, he didn’t know what all the customers were asking for, but he soon learned, and then we got a bigger van, although the mobile round stopped over 20 years ago.”

Changing shopping trends
There have been many changes to consumer shopping habits over the years and technology has also changed the way people shop. Jenny, who is helped by her family, has kept up to date, installing a card machine, and over the years has witnessed various trends in what people spend their money on.

“When we first came, we used to sell lots of paraffin as everybody had stoves. They all had outside toilets and little greenhouses and there was nothing else to heat them with,” explains Jenny, who enjoys gardening, jigsaws and watching snooker in her time away from the shop. “Then it was lots of Calor gas for little heaters that people kept in the kitchen to keep warm, now it’s all logs and coal for burning – that’s been one of the biggest changes.

“We used to do videos and DVDs too, but they’re another thing that’s gone by the way.”

The store is open every day – weekdays from 7am to 6pm, although before the pandemic closing time was 8.30pm, while on weekends Jenny shuts up shop at 2pm. The only day she takes off is Christmas Day.

Jenny stocks everything you’d expect to find in a village convenience store and more – including grocery staples, frozen foods, newspapers plus jigsaws and hardware items like fuses, paintbrushes and turps.

There’s also an off-licence, and if there’s something you can’t find, Jenny will do her best to get it.

Customer service
Her son, David, has followed in her footsteps and runs the shop and Post Office in East Barkwith. He was awarded a BEM in the New Year Honours list for his services to the Post Office and the community.

“I just want to keep doing what I’m doing – about 12 other village shops around the area have closed since we’ve been here,” adds Jenny.

“We do try to go out of our way with customer service – I often know what people want before they do! If they’re baking, I often remind them of things they might need or have forgotten.

“Each day is different, you never know what it’s going to be like – although you can often tell by the weather. On wet days sometimes hardly anybody comes in, then it’s snowy and everyone wants milk and bread as they’re worried about being snowed in. When it’s hot, it’s cold drinks and ice-cream. We’re on the Viking Way, so we get a lot of tourists and cyclists too.

“With being here 50 years, I wanted to do something different. Eric used to write a bit each night and I’d been keeping a diary, so a book seemed a good idea and it seems to be selling well, just snippets of our lives and photos. We appreciate all the customers who have traded with us over the years, new ones and old ones.”

Jenny’s daughter Jackie, who runs a B&B in the village, said the whole family is proud of her and delighted to see her wonderful achievement receiving the acknowledgement it deserves.

“A lot of people don’t stay in the same job for a couple years, so to run your own business and be there 50 years is a massive achievement,” she said.

“Mum’s life is running this shop, she says her customers are her family and she works very hard for them.

Most people, if something breaks down, they don’t automatically think I’ll ring the lady in the village shop, but they do here, they just ask Jenny. She knows everybody! We’re all very proud of her. She’s a true legend, and a great advocate for the community that she’d do anything for.”

Copies of Just Ask Jenny are available from J Ward, Donington-on-Bain, and East Barkwith Post Office, priced £10.

Photographs: Courtesy of Jenny Ward

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