Amanda Matthews opened Refill zero waste shop in Suffolk, just before lockdown 1.0. Here she fills us on how she’s been faring in lockdown 2.0 and how she’s looking ahead to her first festive season
As I said previously, starting to trade just before Covid hit was a panicking time. But, with the support of some incredible customers and some wonderful suppliers we made it through the difficult spring. With a lovely sunny summer, the world, whilst still different and with a ‘new normal’ to navigate through, seemed a little easier. More people were able to get out and about, and more wanted to see what they could do about their personal impact on the environment. With the necessary need for more disposable PPE in certain situations, it’s a great time to see where else we can change small things to offset this, and perhaps even tip the scales more to reduce our impact further.
At the start of the year while I prepared to open Refill, I had planned on expanding later in the summer/autumn, with a second cabinet, further dispensers and a larger range of dried goods. I had planned to achieve this with the help of crowdfunding during the summer. When Covid hit in March, I had assumed this plan would have to be put off for at least a year while we worked on just surviving and making it through these hard times. However, with the help of a wonderful friend, who just so happens to be a great local carpenter, who insisted on building the cabinet for me, accepting only continuous tea and a doughnut as payment, along with the continued support of wonderful customers coming back to Refill their cupboards week after week, I have actually been able to achieve the plan despite Covid (‘in your face virus!’)
My fantastic new cabinet is made using only reclaimed scaffold boards – in fact using only the left over boards from the shelves he built me previously (and the small amount of offcuts, still left, will be coming to mine and #miniecowarrior ‘s allotment to make the edges of our beds for the spring!).
I can’t wait to be able to order the new dispensers (which incidentally are made using recycled plastic!) and get them filled with even more options to help you reduce packaging in your weekly food items!
However, along with the good news, there also comes, the fear, of how precarious the High Street economy is – on behalf of all the independent shops, please don’t forget about us when it’s cold, and wet and miserable out there. We are all still here, with a warm greeting, ready to give you a safe, and convenient option, with a wonderful range, to offer you a unique shopping experience, for all your needs in the upcoming festive period.
For the last six months, my customers have become used to the welcome from not just from me in-store, but also my #miniecowarrior.
Amanda Matthewsof Refill Leiston
For the last six months, my customers have become used to the welcome from not just from me in-store, but also my #miniecowarrior. Often greeting customers with a prompt to remember masks (I promise this has not come from me!) and to ask if they’ve seen R2D2 anywhere! However, as well as he has coped with being here with me every day, the ability to return to school fully in September has been so good for him. But don’t worry, he’s still here with me in afternoons and weekends for all your Star Wars and Lego chats!
There was a roller-coaster of emotions again on Halloween when lockdown 2.0 was leaked. We were having a fun day with free cookies and cupcakes for kids to have a little trick-or-treating in town, and #miniecowarrior was bashing around the shop in his homemade robot costume. But then the announcement of the leaked information on the radio – I won’t deny a flicker of dread.
However, I realised, we made it through with incredible people supporting us last time, and we would do the same again! I am grateful to be classed as essential and able to continue trading. Along with schools remaining open, we were in a far better position this time to be able to carry on as we have been. I already run the shop as Covid secure as possible so nothing has really needed to change this time – and I’m grateful to all my customers for being so understanding of the fact things take a little longer when you’re washing hands, scales and surfaces between each customer! The one thing I was not prepared for has been just how busy it is getting in my little shop!
As we head into the last part of 2020, let’s be honest – aren’t we all glad this year is ploughing on into the last stretch?! There are a few new suppliers going to be joining the Refill family, exciting new products, and more shuffling around in the store to fit everything in, whilst still being able to keep your shopping experience safe for everyone. Autumn and winter are my favourite parts of the year, so expect some fun and interesting times appearing in-store and on my social media accounts: recipes for comfort foods, ideas for low waste celebrations, and some inventive ways to prepare for the festive period!
We are getting more stock arriving daily for gift ideas in the run up to Christmas, and my wonderful customers are really getting into the process of bringing your own tubs and bottles, and are loving seeing just how much you’re saving from landfill! We have a lovely bunch of regular customers, and a whole host of new faces each week, who are becoming part of the regular crowd too which is so wonderful, and very reassuring in these odd days!
I’m so excited to head into our first Christmas at Refill in the next few weeks! I can’t wait to enjoy seeing you all in the festive period, and to seeing just how far we’ve come as we hurtle toward Refill’s first birthday in the new year!