Local shops charity ViRSA is promoting the growth of independent retailers with a scheme designed to double the number of community-owned stores in England.

Its Community-Owned Retail Enterprise project promises £2m of funding to take the number of community-owned shops in villages in England from 160 to 320 within five years.

The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, an independent grant-making body, has agreed to provide some funding, with Co-operative and Community Finance offering to loan more and the rest raised by local communities.

Start-up packages from ViRSA for each enterprise will consist of a £20,000 grant, plus further cash from locals and other groups. Villages with at least 200 people will be eligible.

ViRSA fundraiser Jill Roberts said: "The village shop provides not only ser­vices but also somewhere for people to meet."

Community-owned shops are largely staffed by local volunteers.