The Shop and the Future

So it happened, the shop is open. We opened the doors on the 4th of May and since then its been a whirlwind of activity. I haven’t had time to sit down and type up a blog in god knows how long but I’m happy to say that I’m – obviously – doing it right now. The main reason why I wanted to get something written down was to promote the Crowdfund we launched on Monday, 15th July 2019. The next 4 weeks are going to be so nerve wrecking, I am probably going to have no nails by the end of it. But I feel its so important to get the ball rolling and keep moving forward with The Green Scoop.

But before I get into all of that. Let’s recap on a few things.

I started on this business owning journey last year when I started researching my potential audience and began writing up my business plan. I received help from Big Ideas Wales, a fantastic organisation that helps young folk like me set up their businesses. My business advisor helped me get my business plan top notch and put it forward to the Start Up Loan Company. Yep, I got a loan – a £19,000 loan to be exact – to be paid back over 5 years. Hopefully you can tell how determined I was to get this shop opened, to go for that amount of money, on my own, with nothing but a big idea and a lot of guts. But I did, the loan was approved and about a month later I was handed the keys to my shop.

It was an amazing moment, I cant describe to you how thrilled I was. As soon as I got the key code, I hot footed it over here, trembling fingers fumbled with the key code box and then I had them, my keys. Oh my gosh, I’m getting nervous excited just thinking about it now – a good four or so months later. It was an awesome moment.

My Keys! A bit grubby but still wonderful!

So then we launched straight into getting set up. Sourcing materials, painting walls, ripping up the carpet tiles (the tiles are safe and stored in the basement, didn’t go to the tip) and figuring out exactly where everything was to go.

We had a minor blip when the scaffolding boards we ordered weren’t coming anymore and we had to source an alternative. Which actually turned into a great thing because we found these amazing floor boards and pitch pine panels which worked into the overall look of the shop really well.

I couldn’t have done it without my sister, Cerys and my dad (Plus loads of other people). They helped me put the shop together. I couldn’t have power washed all those boards, sanded them all and put it all together on my own. Cerys is hard working and Dad has skills and power tools. I don’t think the shop would look as awesome as it does if I hadn’t received their help. I’m eternally grateful.

So after a lot of hard work, some tears and a couple of minor finger injuries – we were done! It felt like we had been doing it for years but the same time like no time had passed at all. The Shop was finished, the tubs were washed, dried and filled, the jars shiny and the veg crates full. All our stock were out and all I had to do was swing those doors open on the 4th of May at 9 o’clock.

What a day that was. You could barely move from the amount of people that were in here. It was a hive of activity. It was amazing… and every day since then has been just as awesome. Adjusting to the way of the shop has been difficult but not to a point where I regret any of this.

I do not regret a thing!! By far the best thing I have ever done in my life. I love it. I’d do it all again!

We’ve been open for 11 weeks now. 11 whole weeks. Where has the time flown? It’s been brilliant. Looking forward to every week to come.

But enough of the gushing.

The next stage of the business is to open a Zero Waste and Sustainable cafe in the shop itself. But not just any cafe! A community space where we can host workshops, community groups and encourage people to learn new skills, take up hobby’s and connect with each other. One of the more important things we want to do is start a pay-it-forward scheme to help those in need.

A pay-It-Forward scheme works by someone paying for a meal and/or drink that then gets reserved for someone to use when they cant afford to pay for it themselves. Brilliant right? That’s why we want to do it.

In order for us to be able to do that, we need to raise £16,500.

Yep, I know. What a number. That’s as far down as I could get it as well. We’ve taken over a building that used to be a bank so there is no catering kitchen or special equipment. We have a sink and a cupboard, thats it. To make it even more difficult. We’ve only got 4 weeks to raise this amount. And today, (Day 5 – Friday, at time of typing) we’ve only got £575.

But that’s brilliant! It shows that there are people out there that believe in our project and what we want to bring to Carmarthen! I’m determined to keep the ball rolling, to gather momentum and surge forward to our goal! We CAN do it!

And you can help. By pledging, sharing, liking, commenting, shouting about it and encouraging others to pledge what they can as well. 50 people pledging £10 is £500 – 100 people pledging £20 is £2000! Simple maths but you get the idea. You don’t have to be a massive giver – just your small contribution can result in a huge impact.

If you want to pledge today, you can at – www.crowdfunder.co.uk/community-hub-cafe-the-green-scoop

Thanks for reading my waffling!

A Business and Life Update

The last few weeks have passed quickly and with a sense of surreality. A year ago I never would have imagined that I’d be waiting for keys to a shop premises and planning a business right now. I never thought I ever had the drive to follow anything through. I was (and still am occasionally) a bit of a whimsical person – all the ideas but not much of the motivation.

That all changed when I stepped into a Zero Waste Shop in Narberth. Since then, things have snowballed quickly in the most positive way. From meticulously going through every detail of my business plan and cash flow to receiving the go ahead for my business loan – its flown by. Hard to think it was months of work.

But here we are. I’m a couple of days away from receiving the keys to the premises and I’m putting together my final price lists and budgets.

In my personal life, I’ve been taking steps to reduce my plastic usage further. Which has had its usual set backs and confusions.

Such as the new box of Twinnings loose leaf tea that I opened this evening. Previously, I had a box of PG tips loose leaf which – delightfully – came with no plastic lining inside its cardboard box, just a simple heat sealed paper covering. Great, yes? So why did I decide to change?… well, I like twinnings and they have good ethnics so I picked up a box at Morrison’s. Only thing is, when I opened it to indulge myself in a late evening beverage, I was rather disappointed to see that my tea leaves were in a little plastic bag.

Further inspection of the box failed to tell me if this plastic bag was recyclable. The feeling of exasperation was strong but I continued to pop the tea leafs in my tea defuser and make my tea.

I may be losing you there to the melodrama but its not almost as exasperating as the first time I went to the fish mongers counter at Morrisons.

It was a bit later on in the day so the fish monger him/herself wasn’t at the counter. I waited patiently, watching the two salmon fillets I wanted as if they were about to leap back to life and escape their icey bed. An attendant from another counter spotted me and came across, stating she didnt know how to de-scale or cut up fish properly so she hoped I wasn’t needing anything like that. I reassured her that I did not and pointed at the two fillets that I wanted (which, thankfully, hadn’t started to dance yet).

At this point I’ll remind you that this is the first time I’ve ever gone to a fish mongers counter for anything and me being an awkward sort at times, this new experience was not going to run smoothly.

My non-fish monger attendant was reaching for the plastic bags when I suddenly remembered that I should probably be telling her that I don’t want that. Caught by the nervousness and my own silly ways, I jolted -and may have shouted a little, “But I don’t want the plastic!” Whilst wildly banishing my BPA free tubberware.

The resulting confusion of converse between us only led to be taking my salmon fillets home in my box but not without using plastic entirely. She still took TWO plastic bags out and used them to – 1. Put on the scales to “protect” them. 2. To pick up the fish with.

I walked away feeling proud that I had survived my fist fish monger experience and exasperated that I may as well have just got the fish in the plastic bags. If its not saving anything from going into landfill, then what is the point?

You’ll be glad to hear that my faith was restored when I visited the butchers counter at Tesco***. This was an overall positive experience. I was armed with my tubberware and having learnt from my previous experience at the fish mongers, got ready what I wanted to say. Except I must have over prepared because the butcher knew exactly what I wanted as soon as I told him I was reducing my plastic consumption. He wrapped up everything in paper for me and didnt even use plastic to put on the scales (cos those things can be cleaned in between uses). The only thing he used were gloves and that’s okay for me. You can’t fight them when it comes to hand hygiene. I didnt really need the tubberware in the end has it was wrapped up well in the paper. I do recommend using your butchers for any meat products you want, ask them if they have paper to wrap up and if not, ask if using your own containers is okay. They’ll more than likely try and cater to your wishes the best they can and if more people start asking, the more likely it’ll become a permanent feature.

Taking baby steps towards a plastic free life is still progress. Even if all you can do is cut down on the amount of single use plastics you’re using. Some things have been easier then others. Some things have even made me stop buying and eating junk food – always a positive. Whatever you can do its still making a difference. In fact, I recently saw a quote that spoke volumes, so I’ll leave it with you…

“We don’t need a handful of people doing Zero Waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

– Anne Marie Bonneau

***On a side note: It was late in the day and the local butchers had closed at this point. I needed a set number of ingredients for dinner and didn’t want the added waste (plastic and food) that came with “off the shelf” meat. I would have preferred to go to a local butchers but after being busy all day, I just couldn’t. I am looking into buying more from local businesses in the future.

The Plastic Diet

2019 has so far brought some challenges. Mainly the trying to eat better challenge.

Yes, I’m joined the many thousands upon thousands of people who are dieting and exercising this month. I’ve never been one for purposely tearing my lungs apart and shredding my legs up until they feel like jelly. So I can’t say I’ve done much of the exercising. To compromise, I’ve just been taking the two flights of stairs up to the ward I work on instead of the lift and setting myself a walking goal once a week.

This – has actually worked out for me so far. I can rapidly lose motivation when I feel like I’m failing at something. So those countless attempts at putting my fat thighs in joggers and ‘hitting the gym’ where quickly abandoned. Taking a stroll – with some occasional difficult uphill power walks – around the deer park of the National Trusts Newton House however works out just fine. Dinefwr has been an enjoyable day out for me and my partner for the last four years we’ve been together. He grumbles about going uphill sometimes but we both love the scenery and the deer.

Deer Stag at NT Dinefwr 13/01/19

As for the food side of things. That’s been a struggle between sweet cravings and plastic usage. For the love of salad…. why are cucumbers wrapped in plastic? And pray tell me – why can’t I buy a leaf that doesn’t come in a pointless plastic bag? You’d think they’d at least put them in “plastic” made from potato starch or something. But no. Alas, I must either abandon my beloved cucumber and lettuce or suffer the consequence of the un-recyclable plastic menace.

Melodrama aside, it has actually been very frustrating trying to shop for good foods whilst wrestling with my ethical values. I stood at the sugar section of Morrison’s yesterday for a good 5 to 10 minutes trying to decide whether I should stick with my usual sweeteners that came in a plastic dispenser or go for the unrefined cane sugar cubes in a paper box.

Yes, that was an actual problem I had.

I ended up going with the sugar cubes. It was a tough decision but at least now I’ll cut down on my tea (caffeine) drinking in order to avoid the sugar. Ultimately it was the realisation that my favourite sweetener dispenser wasn’t recyclable that made the final decision.

On the positive side, I’m finding it easier to say no to chocolate, biscuits and other such sweet things because they mostly come in un-recyclable packaging. I find myself not making decisions based on my cravings but rather on my goals. So if that packet of chocolate digestives isn’t going to help me be zero waste then I ain’t buying it.

Great news for my waist line.

Not so great news for my sugar cravings. Although I’m tackling that with fruit and sheer will power – especially when I walk into the cupboard at work and see someone’s opened another box of biscuits 😑… I’ve resisted it so far so fingers crossed I can keep it up. If I’m going to be running around a shop all day in a couple months, I’d better get myself in shape!

Looking at the Old Year and the New

With Christmas fading into the background and New Years Day drawing to a close I finally find a second to write this blog. It was a busy festive season for me – there was work, family fun times and a lot of business planning. And I mean, a lot.

There’s a lot of research and work to be done if you want a loan application to be accepted. I’ve got through the credit check just fine and have started putting together the other wordy bits to go in after it. What’s been a little frustrating is that because it was Christmas time I didn’t have any help from Business Wales advisors. They’re hard working people so I’ll let them off but when you’re an eager business planner and need a second opinion you cant really ask your dog….

Our newest addition to the family, Gwen.

Or you can ask them. It’s just that you’re not going to get much sense out of their barking.

I should have the application in by the end of the week either way. At least thats what I’m hoping. Early next week is fine too. I also have plans to go see a premises in town next week. I wont tell you where it is because I don’t know if its the one and theres so many variables working in this. I’m trying to take one step at a time and rein myself in a little. I have a tendency to get in front of myself quite often. But I suppose that’s okay really, if I didn’t have that drive I wouldn’t have made it this far!

Reflecting back on 2018, I feel a mixture of sadness and pride. It was a difficult year, many things happened that broke my heart. One of the worst was the sudden death of our beautiful cocker spaniel, Bonnie. She was fine on the Thursday and by the following Monday, she’d gone. Only 9 years old and still bouncing about like a pup we never thought she’d go so early. You might think me silly for getting emotional over a dog, but many of you will know how much a part of the family they are.

No matter how many times I tidied the sofa, she’d always mess it up again for her bed. RIP, my girl.

Now the pride comes from myself. I look back and think “My god, I survived all that?” I never knew I could be so strong. I knew I was a stubborn and un-wielding but that? Then theres this glorious and amazing path I’ve set myself on. I’ve not only tackled my mental health but I’ve found something I want to do that fills me with passion and purpose.

I just cant wait to be there, in my shop – providing you with all the single-use plastic free products you’ll ever need (well, mostly. 😂 Meat and cheese aren’t easy and wont be featured in the first year). You might catch me doing a little dance sometimes, I ask in advance that you forgive my poor attempts – I’m not gifted in the art of the dance. But that wont stop me.

So 2019 is going to be great. I have exciting business things to do, I’ll be exploring different food things (different for me, the life of frozen food and sweets isn’t one I plan to continue – for health reasons and plastic ones) and I’ll also be continuing to chip away at my use of plastics and the amount of waste I produce at home.

So much to look forward to.

Why I Decided to Open My Own Shop

I just wanted to make a blog about why I began this journey. Just to tell you a little bit more about me.

I have experience in the retail industry working as a Till Operator at Wyevale Garden Centre and have been to many craft and Christmas fairs since I was 18 years old – selling things I’ve made and my grandmothers cosmetic products which she makes from beeswax. These I can honestly say, have been some of the most enjoyable experiences of the last five years. One of the most memorable being when I went with Nan to The Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in Builth Wells. It was busy, exciting and a sort of hard work that I didn’t mind at all. The passion to sell and make my customers happy has always been important to me. 

But the last five years have also been the toughest for me. I found myself in the Caring industry as I struggled for money and had no real goals at 19. I worked hard, enjoyed helping our clients with their needs and took pride in what I did. But after a few years of back breaking slog and difficulties with employers, I was no longer happy. I took a career change and became a ward clerk – something different to get that enjoyment back. Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple, I just wasn’t in the right place. So stepping back, I really looked at myself – asked myself “Where was I happy?” 

Well, that’s when I remembered about my retail experience. I would never have left the Garden Centre if they were able to give me full time work. But I knew I couldn’t just go to a supermarket and start stacking shelves. I have skills and experience that I need to use. I thought I’d start a business selling wool and yarn but I didn’t see myself being able to leave the hospital with just that. I don’t have my own flock and it would take me many years to build up to a point I could have. Although I still want to have my own flock one day and fulfil my creative goals, I needed to find something I could really make a difference with. I needed a Thing, something to be proud of.

That lead me one to my other passions – sustainability and the environment. I’ve been telling anyone who would listen for the past year that I want to build a house out of straw. I’ve been looking into composting toilets, solar panels and turf roofs. Anything and everything to do with eco friendly living and sustainability. Although I’m, and my partner, are a few years off being able to afford our own bit of land and building the house – I’ve been trying to live up to my future goals as best I can. Simply by walking to work, turning off things that don’t need to be on, buying from sustainable sources and buying free range and local. I’ve never dropped litter, I occasionally find myself picking up rubbish from the beach and we’ve always had our own chickens for eggs. 

Like many people, I’ve always enjoyed a documentary with David Attenborough narrating. So like many of us did back in 2017, I sat down to watch Blue Planet 2 with the rest of the country. I didn’t expect it to completely change the way I looked at my feeble attempts to stay environmentally friendly and at the waste I was creating from just everyday life. I immediately began looking at how I could change this for the better. As I detailed in my previous blog – I stopped buying shampoo and conditioner bottles, bought a metal safety razor, invested in some beeswax wraps and made a habit of saying no to plastic cutlery and other disposables. 

What I couldn’t do was completely cut out plastic from my food shop. It was near impossible. Fruit and veg was easy as Chris Thomas & Son sells a wide variety of loose produce just down the road from me. But everything else? Plastic – everywhere. I said to myself many times as I wandered around supermarkets “If only we had a zero waste shop in Carmarthen,” Then it would be easier, right?

Right. 

I saw my first Zero Waste shop in Narberth. I was so excited by the find – it was perfect. I loved everything about it and I went away with a stronger desire for there to be one in Carmarthen. That’s when my passion for retail and my passion for the environment collided. I had my Thing. This is what I was meant to do. 

Then it was just a matter of how. How was I going to do my Thing?

One of the first things I did was look for help. I contacted Business Wales so put me in touch with Big Ideas – an organisation that helps young people set up their business with lots of extra support and events. I’ve met my advisor, been to a business workshop and even a networking event – which was great fun and very positive. They’ve given me so much support and guidance. 

Now, I’m figuring out my budget, writing my business plan, looking into crowdfunding and searching for the perfect place to set up. I’m always thinking of what I could do next and how I’m going to best serve you, my future customer.

I honestly cant wait for the next step in this journey. Even the smallest details fill me with excitement and I sometimes have to rein it in so I can actually get work done. You’ll have to forgive me if you ever catch me doing a little dance. 😉


The Start of a Zero Waste journey…

For my first blog post, I wanted to talk about how I’ve been making small changes for the past year. When you’re starting off down the Zero Waste route, its important to remember that you don’t need to purge your house of all things plastic and go on a shopping spree to end all shopping sprees getting your plastic free coffee cups and toilet brushes.

The Zero Waste movement is about reducing your personal wastage and carbon footprint. If you got rid of everything in your house all at once you’d be sending it to landfill sooner then it would have originally. More then likely before it was ready to go. If you had a couple months of shaving cartridges left – don’t buy that safety razor just yet. Save yourself some money this month and get it when you’re ready.

Making small changes over time will help you become the to the Zero Waste Champion you want to be. Almost a year after I started on my journey, I’m still not perfect. But that’s alright, its not about perfection. It’s about trying.

One of the first things I did was ditch plastic shampoo bottles. I took myself down to Lush and bought myself my first shampoo bar. And my, was it lush (😏)… Since switching I have noticed my hair is stronger, cleaner for longer (as an oily person) and my scalp is flake free. Plus, I find it easier to use – rather then fiddling with a cap and dropping most of it on the shower floor cos water got in my eye and the bottle has turned into a snake slipping out my hands. Although I did have one learning curve – don’t leave the bar in the metal tin you can buy to go with it. If the bar doesn’t get a chance to dry out between uses, you’ll use too much and subsequently run out faster. I think I could have saved on one bar out of the FOUR I bought this year if I had just let them dry out properly. And yes, I said four bars this year. That’s all I bought. I wash my hair every two to three days depending on oil level and I am on my fourth bar currently. Compared to the bottle of shampoo and conditioner a MONTH I was getting through before – its been a game changer.

The next things I ditched were plastic straws, disposable coffee cups and plastic cutlery. It’s easy to say no to things like plastic straws and cutlery but as an avid coffee lover I needed a re-useable coffee cup to keep my indulges almost guilt free. I didn’t like the weight of the ceramic ones and plastic ones just didn’t make sense to me. So when I found a completely bio-degradable one made of bamboo fibre and resin, I snatched it up and made it mine. What’s more, most coffee shops now offer discounts when you bring in your own cup.

I also invested in  re-useable cloths made of recycled material for the kitchen and beeswax wraps to replace cling film. Then there was handkerchiefs to reduce my tissue usage and flannels to replace the plastic scrubbing puffs I used in the shower. 

Now, I’m hesitant to admit this but I went through I stage this year – where I didn’t… shave my legs. I know! Some of you may think that’s gross (while the rest of you shrug and proudly bare your unshaven pins to the world) but I ran out of the plastic razor cartridges I was using before and couldn’t find a local shop that sold the safety razors I wanted. So I stubbornly refused to buy anymore plastic razors and accepted my wild state. That was, until I found it… The Zero Waste shop in Narberth. It’s a small but perfect shop at the top of the high street. I was on a day out to the West Wales Wool Show and just happened to spot it. Going in I found what I needed – a box with safety razor, spare razor blades and shaving soap. The best £25 I spent that day (if you try and forget about the other gorgeous stuff I bought). My legs have never been happier. Using a safety razor isn’t that difficult – as long as you remember not to press down and let it glide over your skin. 

What I found most difficult, was avoiding plastic in my food shopping. Everything was wrapped up in it. I couldn’t get away from it. Most of it isn’t even recyclable, even though I was doing my best to get only the recyclable option I found I was missing out on foods I love because my morals conflicted with them.

This became a great frustration for me. This infuriating lack of choice is what made me want to start my own zero waste business in Carmarthen. To offer something different – a unique shopping experience for people having the same issues and to inspire others to make changes as well. I’m definitely looking forward to filling up my jars and glass bottles with produce straight from my shop shelves.

Until then, I will keep making my small changes and moving towards my zero waste and sustainable goals. One step at a time.

Welcome!

This is the start of a very exciting new start for me. I’ll be posting my nattering on zero waste, updates on the shop and general life woes. I do hope you plan to stick around and follow me on this journey. I”m excited to get going!