Meet the couple who left their London hair salon to transform Elton Village Store into a thriving community hub
A couple who ditched their fast-paced London lives to open a village shop 19 months ago have now transformed it into the heart of the community.
Stephen Higgins, 40, and Ravi Mathu, 34, used to run a successful hair and beauty salon in Canary Wharf before deciding to slow things down.
They initially had their eyes on a shop in nearby Essex but when the deal fell through they decided to view one a little further afield in Cambridgeshire.
Having been empty for more than a year, Elton Village Store was looking somewhat dated but the couple immediately spotted its potential.
Less than two years on it is now described as the village’s “thriving hub” with the couple winning an industry award and recognition for their tireless charity work.
They have held a string of fundraising events, support the local food bank, cook meals for elderly residents, and handed out Christmas food to the homeless on the streets of Peterborough with their German Shepherd, Maisey.
Customer Sarah Langley contacted the Mercury this week to sing the couple’s praises and bag them some long-overdue publicity.
She said: “Our local shop was closed down for over a year but now Stephen and Ravi have turned it into a thriving hub!
“They have transformed this community and in today’s post-Brexit Britain they’re a breath of fresh air. They are too modest to look for press themselves, but as a village community we know they deserve some recognition.”
Our reporter visited the shop on Wednesday (January 22) for a chat with the couple about their journey.
“I’d had enough of city life and I felt our lives had become too busy for all the wrong reasons,” said Stephen, who is a trained hairdresser. “We are busier here now but for all the right reasons!
“It was love at first sight when we saw the shop! Elton is very picturesque and the people here have been so welcoming.”
“You know when you just get a good vibe?” added Ravi. “As soon as we parked up outside the shop we both said ‘yes’! We had such a good feeling about it.”
With the sale complete the couple immediately set about renovating their new shop.
“It was like something from the 1920s,” said Stephen. “Over the past 19 months we’ve pretty much revamped it all.”
The dynamic duo linked up with local suppliers including Trendalls Butchers, Grasmere Farm, Kings Cliffe Bakery and Adl Dairy to offer customers the best produce.
They also introduced plastic-free shopping and encourage people to bring in their own bags and containers.
Having devoted their time to helping rough-sleepers in London, they chose to continue their charity work raising more than £3,000 for the Light Project in Peterborough.
As part of their fundraising drive they held the village’s first Christmas fair, as well as organising a children’s Halloween party and a Remembrance Day exhibition in the village hall.
Their hard graft, generosity and community spirit paid off last year as Elton Village Store was announced as a winner at the Peterborough Small Business Awards and was also commended for its charity work.
“When we came here we knew we wanted to focus on being a big part of the community,” said Stephen.
“People are so keen to help out and volunteer at our events, it’s amazing. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved and we just love it here. It’s the best move we’ve ever made!”
The couple's success has not gone unnoticed by Sir William Proby CBE, owner of the Elton estate.
He said: "Stephen and Ravi are doing a fantastic job running the Elton village store. Their friendly and helpful approach and the wide range of goods which they stock at reasonable prices are a real asset for the local community.
"It is a huge relief to get our village shop back which plays such an important part in village life."
Visit the store at 7, Middle Street, Elton, call them on 01832 280122 or search for Elton Village Store on Facebook.