When Midlands Co-op’s store in Oakham, Rutland, was burnt to the grount in 2008, it signalled a new beginning for the store. Beth Phillips reports

It’s every manager’s worst nightmare to be woken up by the news that your store is on fire. But the nightmare became reality for David Brown in the early hours of 29 July 2008.

The fire at Brown’s Midlands Co-operative store in Oakham, Rutland, was sparked quite literally by thieves using an angle grinder to detach the ATM from the front of the store, and razed the building to the ground.

Yet 15 months to the day it was gutted, and after months of operating from a temporary 10,000 sq ft store in the car park, a £4.5m, 20,000 sq ft supermarket opened its doors on the exact same site as its predecessor with some distinct improvements.

“The fire gave us the opportunity to create an eco-store,” says Brown of the store, which boasts a raft of features including a grass roof, solar panels and green refrigeration. “If we were going to build a new store, green would be the way we’d have gone anyway.”

Standing on the store’s ‘living roof’, it’s easy to see why an eco-store is better suited to the area than a conventional supermarket. The store nestles amid rolling farmland and its roof 100 tonnes of stone and earth planted with mixed sedum almost camouflages the building.

But the roof isn’t just for show. It’s been designed to absorb rainwater, which is collected and stored in a 22,000-litre underground tank and re-circulated for non-drinking uses in the store.

During the summer, it will also absorb heat from the sun, allowing the temperature of the store to be controlled without the use of air conditioning thanks to an intricate system of ventilation louvres, which let in fresh air, and the largest revolving door in the UK (with a diameter of 7.4m).

The roof helps ensure the store’s lighting is also strictly controlled. About 15% of the roof is glazed and the front of the store is glass, letting in as much natural light as possible. This means the use of artificial light is minimised, with sensors switching the lighting in the store on or off depending on how bright the day is.

The refrigeration is equally state-of-the-art. Display cases are fitted with LED lighting that use 60% less energy than conventional lights.

The eco-store stocks about 12,000 lines, including non-food, an in-store bakery, the society’s first-ever Espresso Bar coffee shop and a Midlands Co-op Travel Shop concession.

Customer feedback has so far been good, says Brown. “We have been overwhelmed by the positive response,” he says. “We’ve seen a big increase in terms of footfall and sales and we are welcoming new customers from both Oakham and further afield.

“The living roof is an obvious talking point, but the spacious layout, natural ventilation and lighting and wide product range have also been noted by our customers, and the feedback we are getting is that the end result is a really enjoyable shopping experience.

“Overall, the positive reaction has exceeded all of our expectations and we are delighted that local people seem to be as pleased as we are.”

So pleased, in fact, that Brown is not taking any chances with the cash machine this time around. It’s now in the middle of the car park as far away from the store as possible.