George Freeman takes up the 'Buy Local Challenge'
31st August 2012
In August I was invited to undertake the Buy Local Challenge which meant avoiding supermarkets for a week or so and only buying locally everything that my family and I needed. The Buy Local initiative is an excellent social enterprise and campaign established to boost the local economy, help local businesses reach new customers and help consumers find the best goods and services on their doorstep.
I try to shop locally as much as I can on a regular basis but taking part in this challenge was a great way to highlight the issues facing both local producers and those without access to private or public transport who rely on their local shops.
For the first three days of the week I was at home, where we are very lucky to have a Londis, Spar, newsagent, 3 pubs, a great Fish and Chip shop and the fish van from Lowestoft. I needed a haircut and the two local barbers were booked up (a good sign) so I booked in with Julie and Nicky who run J+N Barbers in Watton, a short drive away. They set it up last December, and as well as a great haircut I enjoyed hearing about their experiences setting up a local business during an economic recession. While in Watton I popped over the road to get some very good quality bacon and sausages from Steve Smith, the butcher. He and his traditional family butchers (especially famous for their hot filled baguettes which are something else) are a regular feature of the Watton High Street.
The second half of the week I was on the north Norfolk coast with my family, teaching sailing. Shopping locally and treating ourselves to things we wouldn’t normally get in a routine week is part of the fun of the holiday, and we enjoyed several meals out at the Hero, the local Fish and Chip shop (though it turns out the fish was from Russia!) and also shopped at The Fish Shed in Brancaster Staithe and the excellent Creake Abbey Farmers Market. (The founder Diana Brocklebank Scott came and spoke at a Norfolk Way event last year www.thenorfolkway.co.uk.)
Generally, shopping locally took more time and was slightly more expensive than buying from the supermarket. But it was a lot more sociable, fun and more of a community experience. Some things are better suited to local shops than others. Buying things like meat, pickles, pies, etc from the local butcher, farm shop, market stall or deli is always better - better quality, more local and home-made and better value. But this is less true for some other goods. For example vegetables from small local convenience shops tend to be difficult because it can’t always compete with supermarkets for freshness or variety and price. There is a good reason why supermarkets have a strong customer base. For most families the weekly supermarket shop is a mainstay of the household shop for all the basics. But not everyone has access to cars or public transport (especially in rural Norfolk) and it was a reminder that the most needy are often those most trapped into reliance on often quite expensive and less high quality produce.
Somehow we need to find a way of combining access to the value, convenience and quality of supermarkets for weekly basics with the convenience of corner and local shops and the special quality of locally sourced produce. This is at the heart of The Norfolk Way movement for rural development I founded in 2008: to keep the Norfolk economy vibrant we need to keep our towns and villages vibrant. And that means a good mix of supermarkets, local shops and farmers markets, and town plans, parking and infrastructure to attract shoppers to our larger villages and market towns. With imagination, goodwill and local leadership we ought to be able to develop a ‘mixed economy’ providing something for everyone.
Something else was striking, too. The power of the internet – and twitter especially – to help link and promote local producers and consumers in sparse local areas like this. On more than one occasion I was guided to find things by twitter. The internet is a powerful tool for the rural economy and community – which is why I have been so active in pushing for our broadband upgrade.
To follow me – and others interested in this debate – follow me and the Buy Local Challenge online and visit the following sites and links: