WITH high streets across Wales struggling to cope with the impact of the pandemic, it is easy to get sucked into the negativity that surrounds many businesses.

But it is fair to say residents in Monmouthshire do not have to travel far to find a quirky little village square which is undoubtedly bucking the trend.

Last Friday, after 14 months of hard work, a consortium of friends completed their takeover of the Golden Lion pub at Magor’s Square.

It follows Village Greens, The Gate, Andrew’s Barbershop and Steak on the Square which have all opened literally within a stone’s throw of each other in the space of a few months.

But how does a small group of village traders with a population just shy of 7,000 survive a global pandemic? The answer, they say, is very close to home.

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(Magor Square. Picture: Larry Wilkie)

“This pandemic has shown me how brilliant our community can be in coming out and supporting us,” said new landlord of the Golden Lion Andrew 'Oz' Cox.

A former accountant and general manager who has lived in Magor for 50 years, he says he can’t remember the Square being in a more exciting position.

“What we have to do is all complement each other and make sure we’re working together," he said. "We get our vegetables from Village Greens, for example.

“The beauty of it is we all live in the village or very close by, so we understand the history and tradition of the place.

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(Andrew Cox (left) and Paul Turner at the Golden Lion)

“The most important thing for us is to return this pub to the hearty village hub it used to be, with good food and good prices.

“It’s a risky time to take on a business, but it feels much less of a risk here.”

Mr Cox’s friend Paul Turner, who is now a director at the pub having retired from his role in IT, says the consortium – made up of seven friends and relatives – are delighted to finally take it on after it was shut down in March due to lockdown.

“It’s been in decline for a couple of years and it’s been a dream of ours for a long while now,” he said.

Village Greens owner and former 999 call handler and postwoman Molly Scott, who is just 24, opened a long-awaited greengrocers in the village in June.

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(Molly Scott at Village Greens)


“I’ve always lived here and I’d known for a long time that people wanted an independent greengrocer here,” she said. “I was a little concerned people might not shop locally, but people are actually coming to the village more than before the pandemic.

“I remember this Square being pretty quiet all the time, because it was full of takeaways and estate agents.

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(Suzie Willett)

“Now it is actually a place you can come and visit and look around the shops. I’ve stayed really steady financially so far, and that’s because people have really bought into the shop local message.”

Suzie Willett, who spent almost 20 years working in storage and removals, says she couldn’t resist a new challenge in August when her sister Heather Lee and brother-in-law Gareth Lee mooted the idea of opening a new deli.

“They own The Gate in Llanfrechfa and I knew when they said they wanted to start a new one that this is the place to do it,” she said.

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(Suzie and fellow trader Laura Spuffard-Davies, who owns the Flower Shed)

“Magor is crying out for stores you can have a look around and pick up some essentials without going to the supermarket.

“It’s gone well so far and I think that’s because people are changing the way they are shopping. People have more time to look for the right foods and make things from scratch, because most are working from home.

“Now the pub is open people are even more inclined to come here and have a look around.”

And Mr Lee has also opened Steak on the Square in place of Magor Chinese Takeaway, which got up and running last month.

Laura Spuffard-Davies, who happened to be shopping at The Gate, said her sales at the Flower Shed have gone up because of changing habits too.

"People are living so much of their lives at home now and they want nice flowers and to be in a nice environment," she said. "My orders have grown 40 per cent quite quickly, and I'm delivering as far as Usk and Caerleon."

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(Magor Square. Picture: Larry Wilkie)

While lockdown has been a terrible time for many, it gave barber Andrew Davies a chance to re-evaluate his life, and he says he is much happier on the Square.

“I was travelling to work in Blackwood before lockdown, so I was spending two hours a day commuting,” he said. “I realised after the shop shut that I just didn’t want to do it anymore.

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(Andrew Davies, who opened his shop in Magor in August)

“I live in Portskewett so Magor and its potential made a lot of sense to me.

“It seems so far I’ve made the right decision, because the Square has made a real resurgence.

“I think people in Magor realise what is on their doorstep too, and in fairness to them I think it’s been quite busy.

“It makes me hopeful for the future. I'm delighted to be here - it's a quirky little place.”