The Package Free Larder interior. 76 Elm Grove, Southsea, Portsmouth.
A conversation with Connie Fenner from the Package Free Larder
by Aimee Rigby/11th-July-2020
What is the story behind the Package Free Larder?
“So, the Package Free Larder is a community project set up by volunteers in a group called the committee. We call ourselves a committee to run the project, and about 18 months ago we first met and kind of put all our ideas together as to what we would like for a plastic free shop in Portsmouth. And then, after six months of doing that, we started to go out to the public and talk to people about it. And then after a while, we figured that people do really want this, and we launched a CrowdFunder and we asked for the funds to open the shop so that we could actually do it- because we had the know-how and the passion but as volunteers we didn’t have the funds.
So, we asked our community and they responded by donating. I think we raised £43,000. It was crazy how much we raised, it was unbelievable how much people supported us. That was last year, and since then, we’ve been working on finding the perfect property. We found it at the beginning of this year and then lock down hit so we couldn’t fix it up and do the refurbishment as quickly as we’d liked to. But, after a while of getting to grips with that, we are opening this Saturday on the 11th of July.“
Connie Fenner inside the The Package Free Larder
How did the coronavirus affect your business?
“Luckily, we already had the keys to our shop and we already had the things in place to start getting ready. If we hadn’t, I’m not sure what would have happened; maybe there would have been a really big delay on actually opening the shop and finding a place. But with us, we restricted the amount of people that could go inside the building to do the refurbishment; so for a good month or two, we didn’t have anyone in there, and then after that we let tradespeople in, one at a time, to get their jobs done- which seemed great for them; they seemed quite grateful that they could have a space that was completely for them and we would wipe it down between people. It’s just put a delay on that really.
Also, it’s changed how we work a lot. But in some senses, it’s a good thing that we’ve had to adapt.
When we open the shop, it will be open for people coming into the shop but also click and collect orders.
So, we’ve got to adapt both of those sides to see the new way of shopping because people have gotten used to quite a different way of shopping than they were six months ago. It’s changed a lot of things in that, but it’s quite good to kind of adapt and there’s lots of different options to shop safely.”
Moving on to the more sustainable aspect of your business, what do you plan on doing with the perishable food that isn’t sold, if you have any?
“That’s a really great question. We asked a zero waste shop in Birmingham, they’re called the Clean Kilo and we just did some consultancy work with them. They’re amazing, and they save it so any food that is wasted, so for example, if it falls on the floor or anything like that, we can either compost it or you kind of look it over and be like ‘maybe one of us could eat it and take it home’ or we can give it to the community, if it hasn’t been spilt or spoilt. But if it’s just close to its expiry date or if it’s a day or two past its expiry date our plan is to either give it out to our committee and the people that we know in our community that we have or to open out to the community of our customers and people like that. But we have to figure out what’s the safest thing to do and regulatory-wise what we’re allowed to do, but we’re really really hot on the plastic waste but definitely no food waste and all of us have a composter in our garden so worst comes to worst it will have to go in there but we’re hoping it won’t.”
How does going plastic free combat food waste?
“I think with shopping in a zero waste shop, you can obviously fill up your container or your produce bag with however much you want. I know that’s really frustrating. Before, when I used to shop in supermarkets, that you find lots of things in your cupboards that you don’t really get round to, or really get time to eat, because you had to buy a kilo bag of something or you have to buy 500 grams of something. I think in that regard, you start with however much you need- you only need to buy what you need, and you can fill up your container with however much. But I think it also does change your relationship with food as well because you’re seeing it differently.
You’re shopping to buy it differently, and I think when you’ve got the mindset of ‘okay, I really want to not put as much plastic in my bin’, I think you kind of have that mindset or I hope you do as well, where you learn that mindset of ‘okay, well I don’t want anything in the bin really’ and it goes from like trying to stop or trying to reduce your plastic intake to just trying to ease your waste in general which I see in a lot of people and myself as well, where that kind of natural progression toward those steps and that’s all we can hope for really- is to encourage people and help people to make those steps.”
Above images; Exterior image of the Plastic Free Larder. Below an image showing volunteers who help keep the community enterprise running! Their website which recently introduced a delivery service. https://packagefreelarder.uk
What do you think about replacing the current ‘make, use, waste’ economy with a circular economy? Is that something your business is focused on?
“Oh yeah, 100%. I’m a business student who specialises in that kind of area of sustainability and we’ve got a lot of other people on the team who have business honours or have other skills and things like that, but we’re all kind of bound by the same passion for moving away from what we’ve got now because the systems that we’ve got now, they’re just not really… they’re not doing any good. So absolutely, we need to be- in the circular economy obviously you recycle things and you kind of go back in a cycle. But at the same time, we want people to be re-using stuff instead of recycling stuff and that’s what we’re really trying to hammer home. But recycling sounds great on paper but it’s quite unreliable and a lot of things don’t get picked up to be recycled, like they say they should,
so our kind of ethos is just try your hardest to not buy things if you don’t need them, and to just reuse them, and keep on going around so you don’t have to necessarily recycle them and put them back in the system.
You can reuse them in your own household and your own life which all of us try to do at least, it’s easier said than done.”
Do you think the coronavirus is going to halt how we strive for a circular economy with the throw away masks and throw away gloves- things you can’t reuse?
“Yeah, I really hope not. I think maybe at the beginning I was seeing so many single-use everything, now everything is single-use in that regard. But I do think that hopefully we can come out of this and aim towards recovering from the climate issues that we still have to deal with, and we can focus our efforts on that, maybe with the mindset of ‘okay, well we’ve been through one crisis but this isn’t the last crisis we’re going to go through in our lives’.
So, I don’t know, you can only really hope and do the actions that you can do in your local community and I really think that works. I really think that even though we have all these global issues and we need to kind of change the system and move towards a circular economy,
that can be done just by looking around your local community and seeing what you can do and seeing who you can talk to and who can get on board with the idea. It all starts from the bottom. I am hopeful, but we are probably going to have to move and have to get things going on the movement.”
Where can people find you and follow you online?
“So you can find us on Instagram and Facebook by using @Packagefreelarder and then you can find us on Twitter, @PFL_Portsmouth. Check out our website which is launching with the click and collect options. You can start buying orders from this evening; this evening at 6:00 PM and today is Wednesday the 8th of July. Or if you are on Elm Grove [Portsmouth] just wave- because we’ve always got the door open. The committee is eight of us so I’ll shout out to like Ashleigh and Delphine and Agni, and Regine and Katy and Esther and Miguel and loads of other people who I’m sure I’ve forgotten, but you will definitely probably see one or two of us in there working tirelessly, maybe filling up food.”