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One day at soft play... how the Re:Store story began

“Mum” said the littlest the other day, “how old is Re:Store and when’s his birthday?” Following a bit of gentle pronoun correction (she is, of course, a lady), I told her this story.

There was no long gestation period for Re:Store, she wasn’t a long-held twinkle in our eye – more of a spur-of-the-moment, “are we doing this for real?!” speck of an idea that grew and grew in the weird petri dish that was covid times.

It all began in January 2020. Claire and I each have two daughters who are the same ages – 3 and 6 at the time – and really good friends. We were at Jungle Run Softplay letting them run off some energy while we did what we do best – caffeine-loading and putting the world to rights.

Completely oblivious to the global catastrophe brewing, we were both feeling run down and uninspired. I was burnt out in my NHS management role – still loving the purpose of it but finding I was giving my all with nothing left over. Claire knew she had a flair for marketing but, after years in student sport, that just wasn’t sparking her creativity like it used to.

A few months previously I had introduced Claire to the feel-good joy that is plastic-free refill shopping in Simply Green Zero Waste on our weekly trips to Nailsea for ballet classes (kids, not us). Thank you Beth for being an inspiration to us and for all you do to promote waste-free shopping in North Somerset.

On a walk around the village Claire’s husband had pointed out a ‘to let’ sign outside Kismet on Broad Street. “If you could do anything with that space, what would you put there?”. Without missing a beat there it was: “a refill shop”. Thank goodness for the village and for John and Fiona that Ziggys Deli were far better placed to take that particular premises on a couple of years down the line!

I was instantly on board. Perhaps it was the January-ness, perhaps the ennui, perhaps the heady fug of the softplay (if you know, you know) – but something compelled me (a serial avoider of phone calls) to pick up the phone and arrange a viewing the following day.

It was, of course, too… everything, for our fragile idea. Alone, both of us agree we would have walked away. Together we were on a roll (something else we’re pretty good at!). We popped in to Congars Cafe a few doors down, which had only opened the previous month. We vaguely knew it was Sonya who owned it. We introduced ourselves and explained our idea to offer plastic-free refill store in the heart of the community, serving the village and supporting a sustainable and accessible way to reduce waste. Not only did she love it, it was something she had been thinking about introducing in the cafe at some point down the line. Sonya was only too pleased to give a collaboration a go and she has been our cheerleader and valued friend from that moment on.

At first our shop was going to be called “Down to Earth” – what we wanted the vibe to be. I loved it. Claire, quite rightly said that people would think it was a garden centre. Several names came and went. Fortunately. Pump & Grind for example. It came to me one evening – a “re” store in the village, enabling people to re-fill, re-use, re-duce. So how about simply “ReStore?”. A few punctuation experiments later, and Claire’s creative abilities in full-flow and we not only had a name but a fabulous logo. Equipped with no more than that we registered with Companies House, drank some champagne and said, for the hundredth time “I can’t believe we’re doing this!”

That was 27th February 2020. 13 days later the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic, and on 23rd March 2020 we found ourselves in the first global lockdown. With characteristic enthusiasm Sonya contacted us to find out when we were planning on moving in.

It’s unbelievable now that from then on we set up our business together apart – whilst home-schooling and continuing to do our other jobs remotely. Working outside, at a social distance, building and painting signs, sourcing containers and shelving from online buy/sell/swap sites, nurturing our vision and identity and discovering our mutual strengths and preferences. Claire built our website and brand, I wrote a business plan and built spreadsheets for literally everything.

In times when everything stood still we were euphoric every time a supplier accepted us for a new account. Naughtons Skincare, Sew Lovely Lauren, Fill, Soul & Soap have backed us from the beginning. However, we struggled to get an account with any food wholesalers which is a problem for a refill grocery store!

At the time, villagers will remember you could only get flour from outside the Chocolate Tart’s workshop on Kent Road. Lisa basically kept the whole village baking during lockdown so this is a great moment to say a heartfelt thank you to her and all those who volunteered to help her weigh, bag and ribbon colour-code the flour of a grateful village’s loaves and banana breads.

I remember contacting Lisa to explain we were setting up a refill store. We understood that her regular chocolate workshop and catering business had been completely decimated by lockdowns and the last thing we wanted to do was compete with her as a flour supplier. However, when the time was right - I said - let us know as we would love to sell Shipton Mill flour. “Compete away!!!...I am dying to stop the flour!!”, came her instant and unexpected response. I hopped in the car, we piled several sacks of flour into the boot and Lisa waved happily as I drove off. We were so grateful for her support and enthusiasm, but it turns out our local master chocolatier was not a grocer at heart! Thankfully Lisa is back to business with her chocolate workshop and fine dining catering business - you can find out more here.

Claire and I on the other hand were about to embrace our inner grocers and it was all getting very real. Our launch would be for online shopping only with socially distanced delivery on our bikes. The website went live on 15th June 2020 and Re:Store Congresbury was born.

Our biggest seller that first year was reusable fabric face masks, and it took until April 2021 for us to move in to the the walk-in self-serve shop space you know today. It's been a learning curve but also a joy to continue growing our business, our range, our confidence, our friendship and above all our impact. We’re still writing Re:Store’s story but we hope you love what we’ve created so far as much as we do.

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