It’s impossible not to be impressed by the originality and attention to detail employed in the development of James Graven’s latest addition to its network. As the fruits of a project aptly named ’Independent by Design’, Wisbech Road Service Station in Littleport, Cambridgeshire screams ’local’ at every turn.

Director Jonathan James who operates the company’s four forecourts and two Budgens supermarkets with his wife Rebecca (who is the Graven family’s sixth-generation managing director) wanted the site to emphasise the independent ownership of the business, have a futuristic design and be both environmentally friendly and community focused. And it’s certainly winning on each of these points. "I asked the designer to come up with something five years ahead of where we are now and I think we’ve done that," says Jonathan.

Motorists cannot fail to see the James Graven name as soon as they drive onto the forecourt, and the company’s 150-year heritage as a local business is reinforced throughout the site with plaques and pictures. Fixtures and fittings both on the forecourt and in-store are energy efficient, and a rainwater harvesting system has been used to collect and reuse water from the canopy and shop roof (read more on the site’s environmentally-friendly design in Forecourt Trader’s forecourt design feature on page 24).

The new site is filled with quirky features that bring a touch of flair. For example, the pumps have more creative names than the usual one to eight such as ’2 peas in a pod’, 6 eggs in a box’, and, of course, ’1 there’s only one James Graven’. And locally-sourced products are flagged up on shelf with a label revealing how far they have travelled to get there. For the baguettes in the sandwich chiller, that’s 85 feet from the other end of the shop where the bread was baked and filled on site.

When it came to planning, the Wisbech Road development wasn’t a straightforward process. The site took three years from start to finish with the planning application being thrown out at the first hurdle. One of the biggest barriers prevented Jonathan from building the 3,000sq ft shop he wanted.

"Planners deemed the site out-of-town shopping and limited the shop size," he explains. "They said it would be detrimental to the high street but I couldn’t see how that would be the case. Perhaps it was a political thing. We had a lot of support from the community and other businesses but it didn’t help and we had to make the shop half the size."

But now Jonathan believes the Spar-branded store is a great example of what can be achieved with a relatively small space. "It’s something that realistically other retailers could replicate because everyone could retrofit a 1,450sq ft store," he says.

Although the store is relatively small, it’s been designed to feel much larger. "When we saw the 3D design we realised it would be quite compact," explains Jonathan. "So to give the perception of size we raised the ceiling and blacked it out. I got this idea from Australia."

Local ethos

Embedding the site into the local community was a priority from the outset, and key to this has been the appointment of Caroline Bosworth as community liaison manager, who joined the company last June. Caroline works across the James Graven estate building relationships with the community. Part of her remit for Wisbech Road was to work through issues raised by the locals.

"There were a lot of planning issues," says Caroline. "For example, the local residents were concerned about the dust during construction. We formed a residents panel to work through the issues and now the residents are good advocates for the site and they ask us to support community activities."

The idea for penny pots for customers who have just run over with the fuel dispenser and the introduction of AdBlue for HGV vehicles were borne out of residents panels at other sites in the James Graven network.

Next on the agenda for James Graven will see Jonathan and Rebecca branch out with the development of a carbon neutral industrial estate on the spare piece of land beside the forecourt.

The development will house seven units and be leased out to high-tech industries.