The Slower Road

At the beginning of 2018 I realized that my textile skills could be put to good use making reusable cloth alternatives to single use items like cling film, tissues, produce bags and cotton wool, and started moving my business to cover more of this area. Helping people reduce their waste and significantly reduce reliance on single use plastics, felt like a good thing to do. I started making beeswax wraps (see how I make them here), cloth hankies and produce bags from recycled cotton sheeting. I learnt how do crochet in the round (having only ever done flat, simple stuff before, this still feels like an amazing acomplishment!) and started making cotton face scrubbies to help people reduce their cotton wool use. Selling these items through Etsy and at markets I got such strong responses from people, and it felt really positive to provide alternatives to single use items which use such enormous resources to make before becoming another landfill statistic.

Soon after, it became clear that there was a space and a need for a package free shop in Newcastle. Inspired by the likes of Eat.Food.Love, I began to envisage something similar, that would make package free shopping in the heart of my home city accessible to all. You can read all about those first imaginings here and here.

Those of you who have been following the journey this year may be wondering what is happening, and since I’m not one for suspense, I can tell you that I’m not quite there yet.

When we were kids, every summer our parents would pack up the red Ford Cortina Escort Estate and drive us all north from Newcastle to dad’s family in the Highlands of Scotland. It’s a pretty long drive. By the time we got to the temperature dropping Drumochter Pass, we would all be properly fed up and the “are we nearly there yet” symphony would begin. Dad would ask us to look at the mountains ahead of us and would say, “just around this next hill, just over that next mountain“.  It was a long road, and slow, with stops every hour or so for someone with travel sickness, or a loo stop. But man, the scenery on that road North gripped my heart, every time. Still does.

There have been some sizeable mountains to get around/over this last year, notably the separation from my children’s father in mid September. There has been much to adjust to, to process, to consider. And still the mountain range ahead of me is vast, from a business perspective at least. Some days, it has felt insurmountable. But there is also so much that feels easier now in our lives, and that brings a little balance. A fine one, but there all the same. Even so, I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two months reflecting on the business and what I hope to achieve, wondering if I can still do it, wondering if I can still make it work, and if I can, how. A single mother, home educating two amazing girls AND running a business from home. Despite being buoyed up by the support of wonderful friends, and feeling inner strength and courage flowing back through me again, I’ve still thought seriously about whether I had the determination or guts to make it work.

Sometimes, when there are obstacles in our path, mountainous or otherwise, it’s easy to consider turning back for the safety of home. For a sturdier pair of walking boots. A cosier, windproof coat. A hardier heart. I can’t deny that I’ve considered, many times this last wee while, a different path. But I’ve always been a bit bloody-minded. Once I’ve chosen my course, there a has to be a damn good reason to abandon ship. Despite the changes, and actually, in-spite of them, the journey continues. It’s not going to be easy, and already I’m feeling compromised by the financial impact on my ability to continue with some of the plastic free choices we were able to make before but that now, for a time, can’t. There is a sad heaviness to that feeling of hypocrisy, when you’re extolling the virtues of organic milk in glass bottles but buying it in plastic bottles again because it’s cheaper. I’ve never been more acutely aware of the privilege entwined in a zero waste, plastic free, organic life. But even so, there’s a gift in that – to be able to find ways to make plastic free living accessible to everyone, regardless of disposable income was always a goal for me, and now more than ever resonates strongly.

So my dream to make plastic free, package free choices more accessible is still alive and kicking, albeit that the road is slower just now. And actually, I don’t feel so alone in it, as there are so many communities, neighborhoods, and businesses all working towards this same goal, forging the path and that feels good. It’s easier to climb a mountain when you have company, aye?

So what does the next few months look like for The Phoenix Green? Well I will still be at markets, including Kommunity Night Market and Star Bazaar with my zero waste solutions, ready to chat about all things eco. I’ll be opening up my Facebook group to become a space for sharing all the zero waste solutions you are finding, the businesses you are connecting with that support plastic free life, and the events and community gatherings focused on subjects like food waste, packaging reduction, economics, and more. My blog will be updated weekly and I’ll be sharing tutorials and information to support everyone to reduce waste at home and work. I’m thinking about running some workshops to get people making their own textile solutions to single use household items, and will be available to talk to local groups interested in making changes to the waste they produce.

Part of my plans involve supporting and highlighting the businesses that are bringing plastic free, zero waste stock to their customers – so if you are one, please get in touch!

I’ll be continuing my work with No Serial Number Magazine, writing articles for their quarterly magazine and supporting them in some important campaigns, including #plasticfreecraft, which aims to challenge the craft and haberdashery industry to reduce their single use plastic on both packaging and in products. Buy Nothing Day is another campaign you will see both NSN and TPGS taking part in this year, as we campaign against the consumerism and open up conversation about alternatives to our current economic and environmental crisis. I’m really proud of the work that NSN are doing to draw attention to the environmental craft movement, showcasing eco-maker-activists and pressing for change. You can find out more, and support their work here.

Another campaign I am spearheading is connected to my work making patchwork quilts, and although this campaign is in the early stages, I’d love to get people thinking more about #plasticfreesleep – watch this space.

There is, I think, a benefit to taking the slow road. More time to plan, more time to absorb all that is around you, more time to connect with the landscape. To gather up the joy of the journey, instead of focusing only on the destination. This year has felt a bit like I’ve been running at life at a thousand miles an hour, and it feels good to step out into this new chapter of my life, knowing there is time to plan, time to spend with my children, time to make memories but also time to make a bigger, more lasting impact on the planet. I’m giving myself the permission to slow down, to take life a day at a time, and to really absorb the beauty of the landscape that is my life, my children, my home, my land, mountains, boggy bits and all. Forgiving myself for the stuff I can’t do right now, and filling my lungs with happy, hopeful, sunshine infused air, to strengthen myself for the climb. I hope you’ll still stay for the journey. I’m climbing barefoot, with my face to the sun. Join me.

My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If not, please consider sharing this post on your social media platforms. Thanks and love, Kate.


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