Meeting those in Ringwood championing small producers across the globe
PUBLISHED: 15:21 28 September 2016 | UPDATED: 15:26 28 September 2016
Ringwood has been an important market town for almost 800 years and with many of its traditions continuing, there's a willingness to support small producers, both local and across the globe. Viv Micklefield meets some of those speaking-up for a fairer, more sustainable world
It’s no coincidence that Ringwood is the western gateway to the New Forest, standing as it does at a crossing point of the river Avon. And with a charter dating back to 1226, its historic Market Place still boasts dozens of traders every Wednesday morning. There’s also plenty of Hampshire fare celebrated at the farmers’ market held in The Furlong on the third Saturday of the month, which, together with an array of gift shops, tearooms, artisan bakeries and the town’s famous brewery, offers plenty of reasons to linger.
However, take a few steps along Star Lane and another journey of discovery awaits. As resplendent with its colourful wall hangings, tinkling wind chimes and funky recycled rice bags, the home and clothing emporium Timber sets its stall out immediately as you cross the threshold.
“I opened Timber in 2000 because as someone who likes to live ethically I thought it was time to bring Fairtrade, ethical products to Ringwood,” says owner Sana Stephens, adding: “Jewellery, accessories and bags go really well here, as do the wooden products like the mango wood trinket boxes.
“Admittedly, Fairtrade and ethically produced products are more expensive for me to buy, but over the years the choice available has become bigger. And to see for myself how they make their children’s clothing, I went to visit the factory of an Egyptian producer called Under the Nile.”
Fairtrade has long been absorbed into our vocabulary and, put simply, it’s the recognition that producers in developing countries have been paid a fair price for their work by companies in developed countries. This allows such producers to afford life’s essentials like food, education and healthcare, and, in turn, to become more sustainable. Whilst not a panacea to world poverty, based on what she’s seen for herself, Sana is convinced that a commitment to safe working conditions which do not involve child labour, can make a real difference to lives, but highlights the different ways in which trading partnerships work.
“There are two types of production. You have the factories that produce products under ethical standards, so working conditions are good and the workforce is well looked after. The best projects though are when companies take work into rural communities, who can then benefit from international trade, and this discourages the population from migrating into the cities. You can tell the difference just by looking at something, whether it is mass produced or artisan.”
It’s certainly easy to see where Sana’s heart lies - the hand-sewn cotton baby bibs she sells along with the sumptuous silk wraps whose raw material has been gathered from wild mulberry bushes, just two examples of where there’s “nothing intensive” about their production methods.
And, it seems, Sana is not the only independent business in Ringwood beating the drum for Fairtrade. Graham Sims at New Forest Wines in Christchurch Road carries bottles bearing the familiar blue, green and black symbol. But her biggest ally is Ringwood School, which earlier this year invited Timber to sell Fairtrade teas at its own pop-up marketplace.
“I’ve been working at the School for 10 years and even before I started there was already a Fairtrade group and a big Fairtrade event held each year,” confirms science teacher Elena Fernandez-Lee who runs the lunchtime sustainability club, of which Fairtrade is one aspect. And she can’t hide her pride when describing how enthusiastically the 11 to 18 year-olds embrace the idea of producers in developing countries having a voice.
“The students here feel quite strongly about social justice and of all the global causes. This is an easy one to support because it’s all about making choices in what you buy, which they can relate to. We also have a subject on the curriculum called Life Choices, so pupils will discuss Fairtrade issues and watch videos about growers and how Fairtrade supports both them and their children.
“Additionally, all sorts of events are held during Fairtrade Fortnight. The fashion shows are always really popular because the children enjoy dressing-up and the parents come and watch. Last time one of the local supermarkets in Ringwood donated bananas for us to make Fairtrade smoothies and we also bought Fairtrade footballs that the PE department played with.”
Embedding Fairtrade within the day-to-day life of the school has clearly helped to raise awareness of it beyond the classroom walls, which is reflected elsewhere in activities organised by the Ringwood Parish Churches. And just 15 minutes’ walk away, The Lantern Community’s gift shop in Folly Farm Lane not only stocks Fairtrade and ethically produced goods but also craft items produced onsite by the adults with learning difficulties that it supports - a perfect match according to day services manager Emma Borbely.
“At The Lantern it’s all about working as a cooperative using natural products, just as Fairtrade suppliers often use wood and felt. With the products made in our own workshops sold through this shop and the money raised going back into supporting our community, so Fairtrade echoes our own principles very well.”
Whilst Jo Barfoot, the shop team leader, admits to having her personal favourites, like the musical instruments from Rainstick Trading, keeping the integrity of the stock is, she says, challenging.
“It’s not easy to always buy Fairtrade products as we need to offer some variety. Whereas you can repeatedly buy Fairtrade tea and coffee and chocolate, for giftware you can’t keep buying exactly the same items in, and it’s particularly difficult to source toys that are Fairtrade as so many now come from China.”
What Jo has learned is that “organic and Fairtrade often go hand-in-hand,” although, as she remarks, when it comes to the customer’s appreciation of provenance: “It’s much easier for them to picture people working out on the tea plantations than it is the factories.”
And, it seems, despite the Fairtrade mark being the internationally recognised standard, sometimes compromises have to be accepted, “because it’s difficult for some companies to get Fairtrade accreditation, they may simply say that they are ethical”. A view reiterated by Sana, who says: “It’s definitely better than exploitation. And when you do see exquisite examples of hand weaving, sewing and carving, you can really appreciate people’s creativity.”
But, perhaps the final word on why our shopping habits matter, should go to Elena. “We’re very fortunate,” she observes, “to live in this part of the world. Some of those in developing countries are not as lucky.” So yes, carry on supporting our wonderful local producers but don’t ignore those further afield.
Buying Fairtrade in Hampshire
Ringwood currently belongs to the Hampshire Fairtrade Network. Make sure to also look out for the Fairtrade symbol next time you visit: Andover, Stockbridge, Romsey, Basingstoke, Winchester, Petersfield, Southampton and Portsmouth. The boroughs of Hart, Rushmoor, Havant, Gosport, Test Valley, Basingstoke and Dean, and Fareham are all Fairtrade campaigners.
Check out www.fairtrade.org.uk for details of events coming up during next year‘s Fairtrade Fortnight between Monday 27 February and Sunday 12 March 2017.