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Post-COVID Manifesto #2 – Buy local

As discussion begins to turn towards the easing of the COVID-19 lockdown we’ve been thinking more about what we’d like a post-COVID-19 world to look like, and what we can do about it. So, we’ve created a manifesto – a series of things that we, and all of us, can influence in some way. Here’s our second one.

When the supermarket shelves began to run bare in the early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic taking hold in the UK, many scrambled to find other food and drink suppliers, especially for meat and veg. Many people found out for the first time that they even had small local suppliers for those goods, let alone how good those suppliers were.

We’re very much aware of the quality and talent in our region for food and drink through the Swansea Bay Markets initiative that we set up, which creates points of sale for many food and drink traders in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot. Our markets project was an early casualty of the Coronavirus crisis and so we were acutely aware of the pressures being faced by many small local businesses.

There was a flurry of early activity (not least by ourselves) to promote those small local producers on social media, and lists of suppliers were created in multiple locations. But quickly it become too much information – hard to find that post from a week ago from that butcher on your social media feed, so just pop to the supermarket instead. Perhaps the one you did find that you liked isn’t able to deliver this week, and there are 7 different and conflicting lists in different places and it’s just simpler to do a click and collect online with one of the big chains.

We’ve all done it.

So, for our part, we will recommence markets when we can, but in the meantime we’ve launched a new website: www.southwalesfoodanddrink.com as part of our ongoing efforts to (re)connect people with local suppliers. Whilst it is an initial response driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, we want this to contribute towards people buying locally more often as we begin to (eventually) return to some semblance of normality – supporting what is called our ‘foundational economy’.

Please share it, use it, encourage anyone you know who is a small food and drink supplier in the region to register on there (it’s free for them to create a profile).

There’s a principle in economic regeneration called the local multiplier effect – the idea is that you paint a pound coin red, and then you see how many times you could follow that pound coin through various transactions before it eventually leaves the area. Extend the idea, and what we should all be doing is trying our best to keep that pound coin recirculating for as long as possible. Think of it this way – you buy your joint of meat from a well-known supermarket brand. You can be confident that some of that is retained locally (in staff wages mainly) but the suppliers on the shelves will be from well outside the area for the most part, there’s probably a decentralised head office where those with the best salaries operate from (none of them spending their money in your local area), and there’s a good chance the land that the supermarket is on is owned by a hedge fund or some remote absentee landlord.

Contrast that with spending your money with the local butcher. Some will always leave the area (their phone and electric bill for example) but the vast majority of it will stay as their suppliers are likely to be local. They pay the local farmer, who in turn employs local people, who has their machinery serviced locally. The person servicing that machinery has a local workshop, which employs more local people. And so on.

That red pound coin transfers through each one, creating ‘new’ value for each stage as it becomes someone else’s pound, even though physically it’s the same coin. Eventually it leaves the area – going on paying a phone bill, or in taxation, or perhaps being spent (one day soon we hope) on a nice holiday somewhere, where it’ll maybe go over the bar to another small business owner. These aren’t bad things – we just want to keep more money circulating locally for longer.

Of course buying locally is about more than food and drink businesses – we’ve focused on that here as it’s something we do a lot of, both through our own initiatives and by supporting others, such as our work on the Interreg funded Wales-Ireland Catalyst project led by University of Wales Trinity Saint David over the past 2 years.

Food and drink is also an area where many (perhaps most) of us tend not to buy locally as we use big chain supermarkets. But it’s about all sorts, from the local hardware store to the small local clothing retailer down the road, and everything in between.

The beauty of small businesses is that it doesn’t take that many of us to change our shopping habits to make a real difference. If 100 of us switch to a major online retailer, that retailer won’t really notice the difference.

If 100 of us switched to a local food and drink supplier they’ll think it’s Christmas every day. But we need to make it easier and recognise the barriers that those smaller businesses have and also the constraints that we all have as consumers – we need to make it easier, and our new website is our very small contribution to that. We need to collectively do more to create a more circular economy.

Each of our manifesto posts are focused on things that are big changes, but also things that every one of us has power to do something about. So, if you can, buy local next time you shop (via our new website if you can!) and put a smile on someone’s face in your local community.