VILLAGERS near Winchester have come up with an innovative scheme to save their post office.

Residents in Sparsholt are being offered £25 shares in a not-for-profit association set up to safeguard their tiny shop and mail facility.

The village’s parish council stepped up efforts to save the Well House store after its founders, Linda Scorey and Stella Neaves, announced they would retire by the end of the year.

The pair’s decision comes after Mrs Scorey was attacked during a raid on the post office in June 2007. The post office remained open earlier this year, despite being under threat from closure by Royal Mail.

At a public meeting in June, the village decided to set up Sparsholt Village Shop Association Ltd to run the facility.

It hopes to get grants of £20,000 from the Plunkett Foundation — set up to improve the livelihoods of rural communities — and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA).

Organisers say they need to raise a further £20,000 themselves. Around £5,000 is expected to be amassed by offering £25 shares to each of the village’s 260 homes.

In a statement on posters around Sparsholt, the association said: “The village believes the shop is an integral part of our life and that without it some of the magic of our village will be lost.

“It has been difficult to find a commercial buyer to date, and so the Sparsholt Village Shop Association Ltd has been formed with the sole intention of purchasing the business for the village and to continue to run this invaluable service to us all.”

“The post office is the focus of the village,” said Cllr David Parker, chairman of Sparsholt Parish Council.

“The shop is not just a commercial operation — it’s a social place too.

“Most people regard the shop as an integral part of the village, which is why we’re confident we’ll be able to sell all the shares.”

Cllr Parker said the Well House building — which is owned by Sparsholt Parish Council — could be refurbished and extended under the association’s takeover plans.

He added: “There’s no financial gain for anybody involved in this, because first of all it’s a not-for-profit organisation.

“If it makes more money than it costs to run it will put cash into something else which supports another organisation in the village.”

Four residents of the community have been appointed to the board of the Sparsholt Village Shop Association: chairman Caroline Horrill, Ian Fogg, Stewart Wooles and Michael Williams.

One of them will apply to be sub-postmaster and have legal responsibility for the facility. Adverts have already been placed on noticeboards in the village for shop staff.

The post office’s current management declined to comment, but said they were still seeking a commercial buyer.