A large number of residents and the entire village school gathered to support the launch of James Hall & Co. Ltd’s company-owned SPAR store in Thropton.

Anticipation and excitement had built for months ahead of the launch in the rural Northumberland village, and on a cold and crisp winter morning, residents warmly welcomed the opening of the SPAR and Shell forecourt.

Vice Chairman of Thropton Parish Council, Cllr Ray Aplin, and Cllr Steven Bridgett, who represents Rothbury ward on Northumberland County Council, joined Deputy Managing Director Dominic Hall and Company Stores Director Fiona Drummond to cut the ribbon to officially open the store.

Thropton residents were keen to explore the store’s range and features, including its Graham Eyes butchers, Clayton Park Deli counter, and Cheeky coffee machine as the first 50 customers through the door claimed their tea for free.

As well as the comprehensive range of fresh foods, Food To Go, major branded products, and beers, wines and spirits, local producers are a key theme to the store range too.

Coquet Chocolate, biscuits from the Northumbrian Bakehouse, eggs and honey from Bainbridge Farms, jams and relishes from the Northumbrian Pantry, and sweet treats from Canny Candy Gadgies are all stocked in-store.

There is also Mocha Mondo coffee, tea from the Northumberland Tea Company, Hepple Spirits, and beers from both the First & Last Brewery and Hadrian Border Brewery included within the SPAR range.

The Shell forecourt has transformed the site of the former West End Garage. It will also support the rural community as locals now no longer have to take a 22-mile round trip to the next nearest service station.

The forecourt features four fuel pumps, water, air and vacuum machines, an ATM, customer toilets, and 17 customer parking spaces. Two EV charge points are also installed and will be operational soon.

There is a designated area for dog walkers to leave their dogs while they shop inside the store, and small touches have also been considered to the environment during construction, with solar panels in the roof of the SPAR store and bird and bat boxes on site to encourage wildlife to flourish.

Community has been put at the heart of the Thropton opening, and in the build up to the launch day, SPAR has agreed to a range of contributions to support good causes locally.

These include donations towards installing Thropton Village Hall’s defibrillator, Thropton First School’s swimming lesson transport costs, and the erection of a bench to mark the centenary of Thropton’s Women’s Institute.

SPAR has also sponsored Thropton Show’s Fell Race, held in the summer, and has partnered with Visit Northumberland to cater for the tourism industry and support the local economy.

Fiona Drummond, Company Stores Director at James Hall & Co. Ltd, said: “We have been so warmly received in the village, and the enthusiasm for the opening of our SPAR store and forecourt has been incredible.

“We have a comprehensive offer with a local flavour that will provide Thropton and the surrounding area with everything it needs.

“I was delighted to meet so many of the local people who came along to support the opening, and it was lovely to welcome in the pupils from Thropton First School on their store visit.”

Neil Milburn was one of the first customers through the doors of the new SPAR. He said: “I’ve lived in the area for 25 years and it’s been many years since we had a garage in the village. This is a real asset for Thropton and the surrounding hamlets.

“I used to work in the tourist information office and people who would come in could not believe the distance to the nearest garage when I would tell them.

“I’ve been following the development progress of the SPAR and forecourt as it has fascinated me. The store is tremendous inside and the range of products is fantastic. This is exactly what Thropton required, and it will be the very thing that tourists to the area will need as well.”

Pat Holm, who lives in nearby Alnham, said: “I used to live in South Africa and know the SPAR brand very well as I used to shop in the hypermarkets out there.

“The new SPAR is a very pleasant store, and you can now do a good shop here in Thropton – it’s amazing! The forecourt is also so convenient and will do really well I think.

“I was particularly impressed by the butchers as the quality is excellent and beautifully presented. I spoke to one of the butchers and they have agreed to make us some Boerewors sausage for Christmas that we used to get in South Africa as they have the recipe. My son will be delighted!”

The store opening is being supported by a Winter Warmer event on Saturday. The free event will run from 10am until 12 noon and will feature a choir performance, stalls, a raffle, facepainting, a Father Christmas meet and greet, and the opportunity to have a photo with the SPAR mascot.

SPAR Thropton’s opening hours are 6am-9pm seven days a week. NHS staff can enjoy free coffee for the first six months, and MOD staff with valid ID based at the nearby Otterburn Ranges will receive 10% off their shop, also for the first six months.