I apologise that his is rather a long post, but I thought I’d share the story that got me to having my Fairtrade stall at Brighthelm URC in Brighton and the changes Covid 19 has brought upon us
I have been a voluntary Fairtrader for many years and involved with the whole FT movement for over 40 years, since I was a teenager. First through friends Rod & Pauline Higham, who set up an interdenominational church youth group and who were early supporters of Tearfund’s Tearcraft catalogues – when macrame sikas and baskets were brought back in the empty hold of airplanes which had taken out aid to people made homeless by the Bangladeshi floods. Out of this the concept of selling more items, and food emerged.
I loved the glimpses of foreign lands and arts and crafts particularly the textiles and I got that it was better to buy stuff from craftmakers, than just send money – craft built long term jobs, aid just relieved the immediate need but abandoned the long term consequences. I also got the environmental consequences of local production and the need for wider markets. Somewhere along the way Christian Aid coined the term Trade not Aid, which has been a constant in my life ever since.
Christmas sale 2019 view from my cupboard
One Christmas I came home to Wirksworth in Derbyshire, to find a pop up Fairtrade Christmas shop in an empty building by the market place. It was very successful and having a group of motivated Christians behind it from several churches across town and being a quirky place with a lot of more leftwing politically residents. Two of these were Ann & Reg Dean (he was a former Anglican minister who’d baptised my mother as a child in Birmingham, who’d become an United Reformed Church minister in later life and somehow ended up in Wirksworth while Anne is the mother of one of my former school friends. For a while Reg was the oldest man in the country, living to almost 110!).
So next time I went home I found they had set up one of the first FT shops in their front room of their house on the market place. In time it grew to 2 rooms, a treasure trove of beautiful gifts, writing paper and food. I wasn’t a coffee drinker then so when people joke about Campaign Coffee (drinking ethical but dreadful flavoured first attempts) I just remember the beautiful gold shiny bags and not the taste!
When I returned home to Derbyshire after college for 5 years, I often used to spend half my day off from my home studio and later from my shop studio, helping in the FT shop.
In 1986 visited friends working in a leprosy hospital in Nepal and saw beauty and poverty in equal measures, it inspired me to dream of doing meaningful work in a developing country, using my textile training and skills, but I was sent home with a flea in my ear that ‘no missionary organisation will want you till you’ve proved yourself in your own business‘ it was actually harsher than that but I’ve tried to move on!
View as you leave the building
A couple of years later, Traidcraft advertised a design job based in Gateshead, Newcastle but traveling to Africa & Asia several times a year, working with different producer groups on new products, techniques and quality control for the catalogues. It was the perfect job for me, One my church homegroup leader said couldn’t possibly exist, yet he found it in the Guardian jobs pages! They had 100 applicants and interviewed 4 of us so I felt very hopeful, but I lost it to someone already working with a NGO (Non Government Organisation) in Bangladesh. Apparently my face fell when I was asked how I would cope in foreign countries on my own. I had naively assumed, as some were Muslim countries where women could not go about on their own, that Traidcraft would send out two people at a time, eg. a financial or farming advisor and the craft designer. Not so. I was devastated but had already realised I would probably have got depressed up in the highwalled warehouses with tiny windows at the top and only half knowing a friend of a friend in Durham up there. It didn’t help that the long journey there and back was grey and wet the whole way. So I continued with my shop/studio work until Alex Mabbs, who I’d met on an international evangelism conference with Operation Mobilisation started to ease into my life. We actually were in a team in West Berlin when it was still in East Germany, praying for the Turkish gast arbeiters and other locals, and, for the Berlin wall to come down which it did a couple of months later
In 1991 we married and moved to Theology College in Manchester, where I supported other FT reps as a customer on various placements. Liberation Theology classes added to my understanding of injustice in the world. I trained to be an Adult Education teacher alongisde my commissions, teaching and exhibition work and starting our family.
After Alex was ordained as an United Reformed Church Minister we moved to London in 1995 for our first job and I became a FT rep for Tearfund and Traidcraft in the 4 URC churches we co-looked after in Wandsworth and supplied several other Anglican churches. Lots of trips across Clapham Common with stock in the double buggy and toddlers walking alongside with the promise of a ride home!
My range of bags, cushion covers, aprons and garments
We moved to Hove in 2006 to look after 3 URC’s in Hove & Portlsade. I had cupboards / stalls in all the churches, opening up at which ever we happened to be at that week. In late 2013, we made a sideways move to look after Brighthelm, a single, 6 story community centre church in Brighton, where Alex had the remit for the pastoral care of the small congregation and the many users of the building, including many social and environmentally based charities, with the main focus of getting people to engage spiritual and environmental issues – a whole areas of theology that western churches had ignored for centuries, despite believing God to be the creator of the world. Much of his early work focussed on the Paris climate change talks, hosting the walkers and runners on their march there, sadly events planned for when they were in Paris were thwarted by a terrorist attack leading to outdoor events being cancelled, which really dampened the effect of protestors/supporters going to support the desperate goals the world needed deciding on.
My cupboard at Brighthelm is is the biggest and best facility I’ve had, I had to wait for a year for a niche in the wall to be turned into my cupboard, but what a wonderful cupboard it is! 2 shelves on a wall, turned into 4 with a closed in storage area underneath. I have been running a weekly stall for over 5 years, watching the ebb and flow of the activities and visitors on a Thursday: gardening, poets, epileptic, health walk, community radio, and foreign language groups and others; the workers in the offices and social support groups; visitors to events in the auditorium – health conferences, science magicians in Science week, loud bands in the May Arts Festival and more…Initially I only opened for a couple of hours in the afternoon, but as my stock enlarged and I realised how much I liked meeting all the newcomers and old timers I expanded to 4-5 hours, with 8 hours on specials seasons like Fairtrade Fortnight (Feb/Mar), Advent and Christmas.
Now however, with Covid 19 closing our cafe, ahead of the ban for safety reasons, and the whole building for lockdown reasons, I have had to move my food stock back home, incase of a very long lock in. How do I keep supporting Traidcraft and my customers if I can safely. The next post will be about what. temporarily at least I can do. In the meantime I hope you have enjoyed the pictures of the stall as it was for one of my Christmas or advent sales last year!
My cupboard with some of the Easter Eggs in 2018