What’s occurrin? We’re back on tour once more! This time it was an early morning mid-week visit to Barry & the awesome Awesome Wales to meet Stuart. Him and his partner Amy look after this wonderful zero waste social enterprise; a cool store, coffee shop & community hub!
We’re very proud that they’ve been taking bulk 200L @fill_co returnables since Summer 2019 (always delivered by Dave) and it was nice to hear that folks seem to really dig Fill laundry liquid in The Vale. These are the very first zero waste stores to The Vale of Glamorgan (they have another in Cowbridge) and you can tell they have soul, purpose & a huge heart. You’ll always be sure of a warm welcome & a proper lush Uncommon Ground coffee!
Awesome Wales also stock an incredible range of refillable dry goods, fresh produce, refillable cleaning & personal care & even a bunch of well considered wooden toys, games and more. Any feedback we get from these guys is always straight-from-the-hip & we love that ‘cos it helps us to keep doing things better. The code of the road meant we couldn’t hang around too long but it was great to visit & to meet in person. We’ll definitely be back to see the store in Cowbridge. If you’re in The Vale this summer definitely go check them out.
While we were there, we asked Stuart to answer a few questions and here are his answers…
WHO ARE AWESOME WALES
Awesome Wales is a social enterprise based in the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales. We launched our first store in Barry in July 2019 and followed that up with our second shop in Cowbridge in October 2020. We’re a Community Interest Company which means any profit the company makes either has to be reinvested back into the company or donated to charity. We felt this was vitally important to us as we wanted to make zero waste/plastic free shopping available to people regardless of their financial position and this way, because we aren’t beholden to directors or dividends, we’re able to focus on what’s important to us… fighting food poverty, eliminating social isolation and reducing the amount of single use plastic used by our customers.
HOW DID YOU WIND UP AT AWESOME WALES
I opened Awesome Wales with my partner Amy. At the point we decided to start, we were both working for a local dog rescue charity and travelling 15 miles to our nearest zero waste shop, the other side of Cardiff City centre two or three times a month to fill our containers. We’d always wanted to work together in business – so one cold February Sunday morning in 2019 we decided that, rather than making that journey every week, we’d look into opening our own zero waste shop in the town where we live, Barry… the rest, as they say, is history!
WHAT MAKES AWESOME WALES A COOL PLACE TO BE
Definitely our staff and customers! We extensively research the products we sell and it’s always exciting to find a new eco-responsible product that people love. But, without the customers and staff in the first place, it just wouldn’t be Awesome. We have been exceptionally lucky with all the staff we’ve recruited. Every one of them has bought into what makes Awesome Wales such an important part of mine and Amy’s life. This has been replicated in our customer base too. Zero waste shopping always seemed to have an elitist tag and seeing as Barry isn’t the most affluent area we needed to fight hard against that preconception. This is where opening as a social enterprise helped. We were able to apply for funding from the EU through their Social Business Growth Fund and also took a loan from the Development Bank of Wales, as well as pouring all our own savings into the project. This funding came with a number of social impact targets that we needed to hit to receive the finances and therefore focussed our attention even more on making this shopping practice available to everyone regardless of the money they have.
IF YOU WEREN’T RUNNING AWESOME WALES WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING
If we weren’t running Awesome Wales I imagine Amy would go back to working in the third sector in some sort of Fundraising Director role, as that’s where her experience lies. I would probably go back to working in education or maybe finally completing my masters and a PhD in Psychology.
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON
Running Awesome Wales is always eventful. Last year we opened our second store in Cowbridge and branched out into home deliveries to help our community through the pandemic. This year we have launched our subscription service and are hoping to finally start running our “Repair Cafe” events in the Barry shop. This event will allow people to bring various items that are no longer working and volunteers will try to repair the item to be used again rather than being thrown away. Looking forward, we are currently in negotiations to launch our library of things in conjunction with Benthyg, a Welsh entity whose passion for reducing waste rivals our own. This service allows people to borrow items such as power drills, party sets, tools without the need to go and buy them. Amy also has several large scale projects that she is hoping to get off the ground in the next few years so watch this space!
WHAT STARTED YOU OUT IN REFILL/ZERO WASTE/LOW IMPACT LIVING
Sir David Attenborough, it’s as simple as that… Like most people we watched Blue Planet 2 on the BBC in absolute horror when they showed the damage that single use plastic is doing to our environment, oceans in particular. Since opening the shop I have been invited to host many school assemblies, from nursery aged children to high school, and the lasting image the children (and teachers) have, is the turtle with the plastic straw stuck in its nose. After watching these shows, reading many articles and journals on the subject it became clear very quickly that we are destroying the planet at an alarming rate, and very quickly if we don’t change the way we live it will be irreversible.
HOW DO YOU ESCAPE
On the rare occasion that we aren’t working in the shop, ordering stock, completing paperwork or cleaning we are usually at home with our pets. We have two dogs, two cats, a snake and until recently we had a rescue parrot. After working 120-130 hours a week each, there is nothing better than loading the dogs in the car, driving to the beach or one of the many local country parks, and just walking for miles. Living in the Vale of Glamorgan we are massively blessed with the local countryside, we can go from swimming in the sea to climbing Pen Y Fan within an hour… and the dogs love both!
We have had some amazing experiences since opening our doors on our first day… 7th July 2019. On our opening day we had over 60 people queueing outside which left me astounded. To be accepted and supported by so many of our neighbours, customers and fellow traders was so inspiring for us. We also ran a crowd funder before opening to allow us to purchase some nice-to-have features such as a peanut butter machine, the support and comments this achieved really shocked us. It made us even more confident that people really appreciate what we are trying to achieve. As for the best moment for Awesome, it was pretty special when Jeremy Corbyn came to visit just before the 2019 election. The day was extremely hard work but it was an experience myself and all the Awesome staff will never forget. Plus he gave me a jar of jam from his allotment… Result!
A VALUABLE LESSON
As much as you try, actually being zero waste is pretty much impossible. There will always be some form of waste in any form of business. The important thing is trying to reduce it and make the most of any waste you create. For example, we sell fruit and veg in our stores. Obviously, on the rare occasion there will be some waste and we have struck up a relationship with the local Tortoise Rescue Sanctuary and they take all of our excess vegetables.
Make small changes first. We don’t need a few people doing zero waste perfectly, we need everyone making little changes… that’s how we can make the biggest difference.
ONE PLACE WE SHOULD GO SEE
Barry Island, obviously!
WHO IS YOUR ZERO (LOW WASTE) HERO
We have two… Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg.
David Attenborough has spent his life trying to educate people about the damage we are causing and Greta Thunberg has taken over that role. They are both very special people and we are lucky to have them fighting for us.
THINGS YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT
My animals… and possibly Uncommon Ground Coffee! They supply the coffee for both our coffee shops and for us to actually sell in store… it’s Awesome!
LAST SONG YOU CHOSE TO LISTEN TO
One Heart One Life by The Undercover Hippy
WHAT SONG WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD TO THE FILL CLEAN REPEAT PLAYLIST
Boyfriend by The Undercover Hippy
Honey Roast Peanuts… OMG!
HARDEST THING TO FIND ZERO WASTE
Good deodorant. I really struggle to use solid deodorants. The fight continues.
Before we opened the first store in Barry we spent many, many hours researching all our products. Refillable cleaning products we knew were something that our potential customers would be interested in. Before opening we completed a survey of just under 1000 local people about what products they would look for in a zero waste shop and cleaning products were one of the clear favourites. We were already using Fill personally which we had been buying from the zero waste shop we used and had always been very happy with the results. It was a no brainer to contact you guys and look at stocking you. We were thrilled with your circular delivery system, the story behind where you receive your 200L barrels struck a chord and the reviews on several facebook groups were always positive. We started with five or six of your products in 20 litre drums, but quickly decided that these were impractical just for the sheer volumes we were selling, so on our second delivery we moved to 200 litre returnables for a couple of products… Now, nearly 2 years on, we stock eleven different Fill products… all in 200L drums, and we distribute them between both stores in 20 litre drums. It’s hard work but we wouldn’t have it any other way… And then there’s DAVE! Where would we be without Dave? The man is an absolute legend and every zero waste shop owner who deals with him feels the same way. To be fair, the entire team is super friendly and helpful… but Dave is particularly special! Keep up the good work guys and hopefully we can keep changing the world together!