Thanks to the Co-op, rural primaries and secondaries could help their communities thrive. Jennifer Hawkins reports
Parents could soon be able to do their weekly shopping at school after dropping children off for lessons, under a scheme backed by the Co-op.
Ten primaries and secondary schools in Herefordshire, Shropshire, Worcestershire and Powys could become more like "open all hours" corner shops.
Local farmers could sell their produce in school and micro-breweries could be set up in the buildings to help rural communities survive.
The schools will also offer childcare, social and healthcare services, lifelong learning, parenting support and access to computers and arts and sports facilities for the community.
Colin Reece, deputy head at Builth Wells high school in Powys, is excited about the initiative.
He said: "It really is obscene if you think about what is available in schools and yet only children get to use the facilities.
"We're looking at how schools could be best used, not just as a learning centre but also within the community. There are some great opportunities.
Local farmers could get a small co-operative together and sell their produce within the school. We could open a post office on the day the one in town closes early."
The scheme is backed by the Co-operative Group, Herefordshire council and the Robert Owen Society, which helps to provide education and training in Herefordshire, Powys and south Shropshire. It is hoped the money for the project will be provided by the Co-op's charity fund and the government-led West Midlands Regeneration project.
Roger Davies, senior co-operative affairs officer, said: "Our role will be to point schools in the right direction. We helped people set up a village shop by providing shelving for the new shop as well as advice on taxation and book-keeping. We could provide the same kind of support to the school.
"They will also be able to apply for a grant from the Co-operative Group's community dividend scheme."
David Russell, of the Co-operative Group, said it was vital schools and communities worked together.
He said: "Because we are a rural community we need to safeguard our future by forming partnerships between the community and schools. Without co-operation, both would die.
"Once the schools have agreed to their individual projects, we will help them make an application to the West Midlands Regeneration project."
Colin Mutton, head of the 240-pupil Kingstone and Thruxton primary in Herefordshire, is taking part in the pilot project.
His school already provides a family centre during school hours, teaching parents about computers, food technology and first aid while their pre-school children are looked after by two members of staff.
It hopes to open a library which could also serve the community.
Other Hereford schools taking part include Minster college in Leominster, Pembridge Church of England primary and the Queen Elizabeth high school in Bromyard.