My Forty Years with Traidcraft
By Jenny Medhurst
I was born in 1948 in Wakefield and grew up in Newton Aycliffe, going to secondary school in Bishop Auckland, before moving to Lincoln and taking a Chemistry degree at Sheffield University. I split my PGCE at Newcastle University with two years teaching science and maths at a secondary school in Nigeria, a life changing experience. I became a member of the World Development Movement (WDM) to campaign for trade justice when I returned to the UK and taught in Harrogate. I also became a member of the Ashram Community, committed to putting faith into action. After another two years with VSO, science teaching in Malaysia, I returned to a teaching job in Middlesbrough, becoming a part of the community living in the Ashram House in the town centre.
The House was visited the following summer by a ‘Missionary in reverse’ – Revd Konathu John, a Backward Class Christians (as they were then called) in Kerala, South India. After resigning from my teaching post in 1979 I went to visit him and his family on my way to see friends in Malaysia. I was excited by the conscientisation work he was doing among his Dalith Community members. As well as raising awareness of their basic human rights a number of income generation projects had been created, including one making placemats from screwpine fibre.
I came back to Britain wanting to share the story of what was happening in Kerala and with placemats to sell, just at the time that Richard Adams was launching Traidcraft I’d bought ‘alternative’ Christmas presents in the past from Tearcraft, and when they had an open day at their Newcastle premises I went and was invited next door to see the first plans for Traidcraft, with its hand-drawn catalogue of kitchen utensils, brushes and hanging baskets. I realised that with the Keralan placemats I would have a bigger story to tell and more to sell, so I became one of the first Traidcraft reps (no 007!)
To begin with we sold crafts, soon adding WDM tea and Encafe and Campaign Coffee. In the meantime the community in the Ashram House had moved on and the house was sold, but not before a local architect and planner had been to buy some WDM tea and helped me to organise a big conference at the Poly on the Brandt Report and North-South interdependence. He became both a great supporter of Fair Trade and my husband for 37 years (And we visited the WDM tea estate and Konathu John on our honeymoon).
I started selling Traidcraft through ‘tupperware’ style parties in people’s homes, but frustrated by the lack of space I was encouraged to look for a shop. I ran one for seven weeks in unfinished premises (breeze-block walls, concrete floors, no lighting) and took £10,000. This gave me the courage to look for commercial premises the next year and I’ve run one each year since apart from the a year when we were having hospital treatment and 2017 when landlords couldn’t be persuaded to let. In between shops I have given talks to every organisation in Teesside and beyond and I supply church stalls, individual customers and run stalls at community and regional events.
I was for a time on Traidcraft’s Reps Forum which was consulted about changes and developments in the product range. With the company staying loyal to its NE roots I have also been very fortunate to meet and hear first hand from producers who have visited Traidcraft.
I helped set up the Fairtrade Town /Borough Steering Groups in Middlesbrough and Stockton and although I’ve had to take a step back recently I still supply them and the Hartlepool group with stalls for events. (I also helped set up and work for the Teesside One World Centre which promoted global learning in schools).
The most exciting recent development has been our Fair Food Fund, and the brain child of a friend who supported Fairtrade and local asylum seekers. I use the money donated to the Fund to buy Fairtrade rice from Malawi which gives a decent living to the farmers and enables them for the first time to send their children to secondary school and beyond. The rice is given to local destitute asylum seekers through an emergency fund set up in the name of one of my former shop helpers at her wish at her funeral. The Fair Rood Fund has been going for two and a half years and has provided £100 of rice every month.
Over those years Traidcraft has grown as a company – a display hamper of foods for One World Week grew into our current food range and we helped set up Café Direct. Wanting to find customers beyond those using small high street shops and churches we helped set up the Fairtrade Foundation and to get Fairtrade Marked product into supermarkets. We worked hard to expand the range of products with the Mark – from fruit juices, wine and rubber to cotton and palm oil, and to further increase sales with composite products like geobars, biscuits and breakfast cereals.
Traidcraft has showed it is possible to make trade work for the poor, and be a profitable company and it has sought to influence wider corporate behaviour by pioneering social accounting, developing the tools by which bigger companies could measure their social responsibility. Its sister charity, Traidcraft Exchange successfully campaigned for a Grocery Ombudsman to tackle the unfair buying policies of the UK’s supermarkets and for duty free access for imports from the world’s poorest countries post Brexit. It is lobbying for the law to enforce greater accountability on companies and for prosecutions of those that cause harm overseas.
Working for Traidcraft and Faritrade has enabled me through our partnership with some of the world’s poorest people to make a direct and immediate impact on their lives and has fitted well with long term campaigning and educational work.
Traidcraft has relaunched this month as a new slimmed down company, seeking a sustainable way to promote Fairtrade in the future. We all hope for the sake of our producers they will be successful but thanks to the wider Fairtrade movement they helped to create I will continue my Fairtrade work