Our Partner Agent, Chris Goodwin has been speaking with Beth Lambert of the EcoVillage in Market Harborough.
Originally from London, Beth moved to Market Harborough four years ago with her young family.
“I lived in London for fifteen years and worked for a global professional accountancy body as the head of market investment.”
“I’m married and we have two young girls, one cat, and four chickens.”
While living in Market Harborough during her second maternity leave, Beth knew that she didn’t want to go back to living and working in the hustle and bustle of London.
“I knew that juggling work with a family wouldn’t give us the life we really wanted.”
“When I was off with my new baby, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of choice for sustainable food and household goods, particularly from supermarkets.”
Beth was keen to change the lack of sustainable options and wanted to create an easy way for busy, modern people to live more sustainably.
“I bought a bit of stock, gave flyers out in local shops (whilst pushing the pram around town) and had a trial pop-up at Nature’s Pantry one Saturday in June.”
The pop-up allowed customers to bring their own containers to fill with dry foods and liquids without packaging or waste, and they could buy as much or as little as they needed.
“I called it Refill Revolution, the day turned out to be a huge success and we had people queuing down the street!”
“I knew there and then that I wasn’t going back to work.”
Beth setup Refill Revolution as a business in 2018 and began trading at Market Harborough Indoor Market.
“With me from the start was Beth Awdry, or ‘The Other Beth’ as she’s affectionately known by our regulars now!”
“Beth and I make a great team; she is meticulous and methodical, whereas I can be a bit of a whirlwind.”
While working on Refill Revolution together, the pair started to build relationships with a range of amazing local producers, growers and other small businesses.
From this, they had the idea to bring all of these businesses together to form the EcoVillage.
“Forming the EcoVillage would allow us to extend the range of products that we could offer, empowering customers with a sustainable way of shopping and living.”
“We know a huge change is needed to reduce our impact on the planet, and we know that change can sometimes be overwhelming.”
At the EcoVillage, the aim is to help with the small steps that will enable a huge change collectively.
“We want to offer our customers a way of shopping more sustainably, paying a fair price to local producers for high quality goods.”
Beth believes that we have been become susceptible to choose cheap, fast and poor quality products, which is essentially unsustainable in the long-term.
“We’re not perfect, far from it, and we would never claim to be.”
“However, the EcoVillage is about providing a caring and welcoming environment and somewhere where we can all learn together about our impact on generations to come.”
The EcoVillage sells everything that you might expect from your average shop, but done slightly differently.
“So we have our Refill Revolution shop within the EcoVillage where you can buy dry foods and household liquids, sold by weight into the customer’s own containers.”
“Alongside this we have an ever-growing range of everyday household goods, made from natural materials & packaging (if any) that offer a longer-term solution to single-use and disposable items.”
The EcoVillage now has a growing community of almost 25 businesses.
“We stock everything including fresh fruit and vegetables grown without chemicals or pesticides by Pearman’s Farm Shop in Billesdon, fresh Proganics milk which is self-served by customers into glass bottles, and beautifully curated stationery items and magazines from The Stationery Cupboard.”
All of the businesses at the EcoVillage are based within a 12 mile radius of the shop, guiding the way to a more sustainable future.
“We also have a florist selling fresh British blooms, beautiful houseplants, homemade curries served in reusable metal tiffins, plenty of handmade reusable cloths and wipes, high quality tools and gardening equipment, preloved children’s clothing, homemade vegan pies, cakes, and bakes, locally-brewed kombucha served on tap, refillable wine bottles from the town’s award winning wine merchant, local raw honey, and so much more!”
There is also a Cafē which sister branch to the The Cafē at Welland Park, who are aiming to become a low-waste coffee shop, and in-turn source their coffee from a low-waste Market Harborough roastery.
“It’s a very vibrant and exciting place to be!”
Officially launching six weeks before the first lockdown on 6th February 2020, it’s been quite an eventful first year.
“We’ve managed to adapt very quickly and stay open throughout, which looking back, is something we’re very proud of.”
The support that the EcoVillage has received has been overwhelming.
“Our customers have been incredible, to have such amazing support for a brand new business has been truly humbling, they really have kept us going!”
In the short time that the EcoVillage has been open, trends have changed massively.
“When we opened we had huge crowds with tables indoors where everyone could sit together for a coffee and a bite to eat; that seems unimaginable now!”
“Although we’ve had to adapt, our message hasn’t changed at all.”
Despite the complications of 2020, Beth now feels more passionate than ever about helping customers to make changes to the way they live, eat, and shop.
“We hope to be able to reinstate our programme of educational events next year, to help support our customers on their own individual sustainability journey.”
“We really believe that 2020 has highlighted some valuable lessons in living sustainably, reducing our impact on the planet, minimising our waste, supporting local economies, and the power of community.”
“A large percentage of our customer base follow a vegan or gluten-free diet, so we’re very passionate about supporting this as much as we can.”
“A number of our individual businesses here at the EcoVillage have a plant-based focus, and we often have speciality pop-up food stalls and events to enhance this offering further.”
Beth also understands that not everyone shares the same beliefs in terms of food, and so they also work closely with a local dairy farm.
“These are businesses that are passionate about farming to protect the land, soil and their livestock; they are either certified organic businesses or are operating to those standards and disciplines.”
The EcoVillage has been coping surprisingly well considering how the year has panned out.
“We’re obviously not where we wanted to be according to our original plan, but considering the world, and the retail climate in particular, we’re doing OK.”
“We are very passionate about our suppliers and connecting businesses; their ethical practices are crucial to our working relationship.”
Beth and her team fully research all of their suppliers in order to be confident that their methodologies comply with their own standards.
“Whilst we might not be a perfectly zero-waste operation, we are as low-waste as we can be and all work together to support continual improvement.”
“We started our Instagram account at the end of 2019, roughly about two months before we opened.”
Beth began @ecovillageuk to document their journey and also to share the exciting new businesses that they discover.
“The journey to opening was such a huge collaborative project, and we were really lucky to have such amazing support from other local businesses and members of the community.”
Over the past 12 months, the EcoVillage has managed to build a network of their in-house businesses, customer base, and other small businesses.
“We feel that Instagram is currently the most suitable platform for us as it offers much more of a community feel compared to other platforms, particularly for supporting small businesses and highlighting environmental issues.”
As well as using social media to network and connect with people, Beth believes that it is important for them to use the platform to speak out about how we consume products, feed our families, and treat the land that we live on – however they do so in a supportive and light-hearted manor.
In terms of the future, Beth would love to return to their educational plans, offering workshops, foraging courses and debates to discuss all aspects of sustainable living.
“We have also recently begun work on our community garden project with the help of some wonderful volunteers led by Head Grower, Bethia.”
Beth’s favourite part of owning a small business is the direct relationship that she has with her customers and other local businesses.
“Alongside this, without a huge infrastructure in place, we are able to be more fluid and responsive to changing customer demands, becoming a reflection of what they want rather than dictating their needs.”
“We absolutely love being part of Market Harborough town centre, the town offers such a vibrant mix of wonderful independent businesses that create a unique charm.”
“The community spirit in Market Harborough amongst the local businesses is incredible.”
“All of the businesses know and understand that it is better to have a diverse offering, as it creates a powerful pull for customers from far and wide.”