Dunmow butcher stalwart to retire after nearly 30 years in shop

Claire Reeve

Claire Reeve - Credit: Archant

The stalwart of Sweetlands Butcher’s in Dunmow is retiring after 29 years in the shop.

Claire Reeve has been working at the Stortland Road shop since 1987 after a friend told her about a vacancy and she thought it would be handy because her children were nearby at primary school.

The children, Joseph and Elizabeth, have now grown up and given her four grandchildren.

Over the years, Claire, 63, has gone beyond the routine of taking meat orders, handling the money and looking after customer’s accounts.

One of the things she did for years was organise day coach trips to France for both staff and customers.

Claire has also run a Macmillan coffee morning from the yard at the back of the shop for the past 15 years, raising a total of £20,000. It’s known as the café beyond the alley.

She said: “The first year, I said to Peter [Sweetland] do you fancy a coffee morning here and I was half-joking. It was just said on the spur of the moment but he said yes. The first year, we raised £80 and it just grew.

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“We hold it on a Friday and on the Saturday, we sell off the leftover cakes. People who can’t get there on the Friday come in and buy a cake on the Saturday.

“People bake cakes and give wonderful donations and raffle prizes, otherwise we would probably never make that much money, just selling coffee.”

There is a tradition at the butchers of long-service. Peter Sweetland took over the business from his father John, who began it in 1952. He had worked there as a boy.

Trevor Townsend and Rod Cory have also been there since they left school, Tim Strange has been there 15 years, James Maples joined from school 11 years ago and the “new recruit” is Ben Broad who has been there three years.

“And then,” said Claire: “There’s the sausage ladies, Pat Catt and Karen Metson, they’ve been there years”.

She says it has been good working in a place where the atmosphere is to go the extra mile. If anyone can’t get into the shop, Peter will deliver.

“He’s driven people to the doctor’s, he’s helped push cars that have broken down in the road.”

At Christmas, Claire says, there is a tradition in the queue for the turkeys.

“It’s mainly the men who pick up the orders. There seems to be a competition as to who can get there first. When we open at 8am there is a queue right along the street. It’s become a social event.

“In the days of late night shopping, we used to provide a barbecue for people out in the town but now the shops tend to open on a Sunday instead and Pete doesn’t think it’s fair to expect his staff to work on Sundays.”

Claire is leaving to spend more time with her husband Lawrence, a retired local government employee. They married when she was 19 and he was 24 and she will continue helping out with charity events for her church, the Catholic church of Our Lady and St Anne Line.

What she says she will miss most about working in the butcher’s shop, though is the daily banter.

“We are guaranteed a laugh every day between the staff and with the customers. The lads have all got a great sense of humour.”

Peter Sweetland said: “The staff and I are very sad to see Claire retire. Claire was such an important part of the business.

“Her wonderful personality and kindness lights up the whole place. It’s been a privilege and an honour to see this for the past 29 years.

“I wish Claire and her family all the best. She will be missed by customers and staff alike.”