All being well, Leah and Nathan Gee will be getting the keys to the treasure trove that is The General Store Ringstead tomorrow. Here Leah describes exactly why the family of four are uprooting from Northampton to North Norfolk
Nathan and I have been together for 24 years this year and we have had many adventures along the way. We have two beautiful children, Joshua who is 13 and Lottie who is 10 years old. We also have a fur baby, Dottie the Cat. Nathan has always worked within the food retail sector and I have worked in banking. Then, once I became a Mum, I gave that up to dedicate my time to the children. I did some care work and then, once Lottie started school, I volunteered within the local school and this turned into a full-time career for me. I had been doing that for the last seven years. The last year, being based at home mainly and having so much time together as a family (which in all honesty was taken for granted prior to the pandemic) made us realise just how busy we always were. The full-time job, parenting and running the children from one thing to the next – football, cricket, dance, gymnastics, social events etc – left very little time for anything else which I’m sure most people can relate to. We love our life, but we just wanted it all to slow down a little!
We always had the dream of living by the sea and working for ourselves, doing something that we love. Our dream had always been to relocate to Devon, but the commute was just too far for family and friends. In September last year Nathan came across a for sale advert for The General Store in Ringstead and we decided we had nothing to lose by going to have a look. That look turned into love after the first visit to the area and the store. We just knew it could be our dream. The children loved everything that it had to offer us a family, as did we all. We currently live in Northamptonshire and Nathan grew up in Leicestershire. We have no family or friends in Norfolk, but we just knew that this was the life we wanted to be able to give our children: the opportunity to grow up by the sea and all the amazing open space, plus helping within the family business. It offered us so much more time together as a family unit, enjoying life together without the constant crave of the internet for the children.
In all honesty the start of 2020 was awful. On New Year’s Day my Mum was taken seriously ill and rushed into hospital. On arrival at the hospital my two brothers and I along with our Dad were told that my Mum had a very slim chance of survival and we were told to prepare ourselves to say goodbye. As you can imagine, this was horrific! The amazing care from the doctors and nurses within ICU helped my Mum make a full recovery after spending six days in there and then further days on a rehabilitation ward. When something like that happens to you, you take notice. Nathan’s dad suffers with ill health too, so being close to family was so very important to us.
We both had great jobs, amazing friends and family around us and the children were both in schools that they were both really happy in with great friendship circles around them. Mum was making a recovery and life was getting back to normal and then the pandemic hit and the country went into lockdown. That’s when we had the time to sit back, take stock and have the opportunity to catch a breath and think about making some life changing decisions for us all.
The lockdown experience on a professional level for us both has been quite different. During lockdown one, Nathan and I, along with the children, were all based at home. All requiring access to the internet, all requiring our own space and all requiring an electrical device to work from. Trying to juggle working from home whilst assisting the children (where we could!) with their schoolwork was interesting. We made quite a good tag team between ourselves, though, and managed ok. The children were happy and that was the most important thing. As I was a keyworker in education, I was in school for six or so weeks full-time, so Lottie had a place in the keyworker provision in her school. Nathan and Josh were still based at home. Lockdown two allowed us both to be back at work and the children in school within key worker provisions, and it was the same for lockdown three, so in some respects we have been hugely fortunate as there hadn’t been much change and we were both fortunate enough to still have our jobs.
On a personal level, to start with it was extremely daunting but the time at home was welcomed as it allowed us to feel safe and secure. That time then started to become less appealing and my anxiety took over! The children were doing great and coping great with it all and they were my main priority and distraction from everything else. I worried constantly about our parents and that worry consumed my thoughts. I was doing the weekly shop for my Mum and Dad, as they were both shielding, along with our elderly next door neighbours’ weekly shop as they were shielding and have no family close by. It made me realise how much we took for granted before, using our local shops where we could made everything feel less overwhelming and it felt great to be able to give them the support.
The lack of social interaction with others was hard for us all but we kept ourselves occupied and enjoyed the precious time we had been given.
We missed our family and friends hugely and not being able to share a hug has been so hard. We cannot wait for that day!
Becoming the owners of a general store is something we had always said we would love to do but it just seemed like ‘the dream’ and we never imagined it would become a reality. In September 2020 we came across it on the internet and we have never looked back since. The dream should have become a reality in February of this year but like anything there have been a few hiccups along the way causing delays, but we just had to keep telling ourselves ‘everything happens for a reason!’ The delay allowed the children to return to a full classroom in their schools with all their friends, giving them some time together before the move, so that was the biggest blessing of all for them. We love the idea of being part of a community, serving that community and helping in any way we can. The idea of the possibility of meeting new people every day – and having them be a part of new adventure with us – excites us so much.
Our lives were so busy with work and juggling everyday things that we were lucky if we grabbed an hour or so a day of ‘real’ family time to connect and talk. The only time we really had was dinner time when we would all sit at the table together and then it would be on to the next job and the children would escape back to their internet and connecting with their friends. We are under no illusion that this will remain the reality for a lot of the time but all being together within the family business will help the children to have a shared interest with us that they can connect with, relate to and understand. Joshua is looking forward to helping his Dad to stock the shop and find new, exciting products and Lottie is very creative so is she is very excited about having her own little section within the store where she hopes to sell her own handmade cards. The idea of having all that open space on our doorstep excites us very much and we know that it will encourage us to come together more and share our joy of the great outdoors. It means a whole new area, new schools and friendships for the children and they have been so incredibly brave about it all. We are beyond proud of them!
It has pushed us out of comfort zone and challenged us in different ways, but knowing that we are doing this for our family and our future makes it all even more rewarding.
I know, for us personally, our local convenience stores have been a huge help and comfort. It has given us and so many others the ability to fulfil that daily need for social interaction, plus the comfort in knowing that you don’t have to feel overwhelmed in a larger store with too many people and huge queues outside. And the comfort in knowing that if you cannot get out for whatever reason that your local store will deliver your goods to you. It has given us all the opportunity to focus on what we really need, allowing us a daily walk to our local shop for a few items, giving us a reason to leave the house – rather than doing a big trip once a week in the car to a larger store/supermarket. Local convenience stores have played an integral part to their local communities during this pandemic. We hope that it has given the spirit of community and supporting local businesses a real kickstart again and possibly changed the way we shop for many years to come.
Our plans are to get settled and welcome everyone that would like to support us and be a part of our journey. We don’t plan to make any immediate big changes as we need the opportunity to meet the locals and gain an understanding from them in what they would like to see, as we feel its hugely important to gain that knowledge first. We have some basic changes that we plan to make but most of that is cosmetic, allowing us to put our own mark on the store and helping us to make it feel like our own. There will be some simple layout changes and we have some solid long term plans, but until we are in and settled those will take a back seat until we can really understand if they would work or not. Watch this space!
We have been in contact with some local suppliers already and we have some exciting new products that we will be introducing so keep an eye on our Instagram and Facebook pages for those. We really look forward to connecting with more local suppliers in the future as we really do want to focus on local produce wherever we can – to us that is very important. Norfolk has so many amazing suppliers of delicious and beautiful produce that we would be crazy to look further afield for it.
It is incredibly important to stay focused on being a local village store where well-known brands work alongside local suppliers. Our core business will not change, and this is something we want to put across to our regular loyal customers and put their minds at ease.
We are all beyond excited about getting the keys! It feels like it has been a long time coming as this should have all happened on February 4! We have such an exciting adventure ahead of us, a new home, a new family business, new schools and friendships for the children and hopefully some new friendships for us, too! We really cannot wait to be a part of the community, getting to know people and helping to deliver their needs. Not forgetting being able to explore the beautiful Norfolk coastline and countryside that will be on our doorstop. We just cannot wait to get in and start trading and making the store our own and creating our vision. Doing it for ourselves and nobody else seems extremely appealing! In past visits to the store, the current owners, Tim and Cathy and the two staff, Kate and Sue – along with the locals that we have had the pleasure of meeting so far – really have been welcoming. That has helped immensely to build the excitement of it all and we are so very grateful to them all for that.
All our family and friends keep telling us how proud they are and how brave we are and in part we agree but then we remind ourselves that you only get one life and for it to be your best life you have to be prepared to delve into new waters and be prepared for changes. This last year has taught us that making a big life change is scary. But you know what is even scarier? Regret!
The General Store Ringstead, 41 The High Street. As well as being an everyday convenience store, it is also well-known for its antiques, art, curios, interiors and garden products. Find it on Instagram