As Zero Waste Week comes to a close, Cata Parrish reflects on shielding and managing to keep the first zero waste store in Norwich open throughout lockdown, thanks in no small part to her husband
When her youngest daughter was born 13 years ago, Cata Parrish became really rather ill. And since then she has had to live with a series of health conditions – not least, ME, or Myalgic Encephalomyeliis. It means her health has been ‘very up and down.’ One day she might be able to manage a 15-hour day. Another? She might not feel able to walk.
Cata used to work in the third sector, for key charitable institutions in Norfolk, including Big C. ‘Fundraising is my background,’ says the 48-year-old mother of three (and grandmother of one) from Aylsham.
Due to her health, she needed to reduce her hours to part-time, ‘to try to work around’ her illness.’ As she recalls: ‘It would take me half an hour to walk up the stairs to get to my desk. I thought ‘this is ridiculous’.’
Cata then retrained as a Yoga Alliance-qualified teacher as well as a meditation teacher. She founded The Wellhouse in Aylsham, in 2014 (which evolved into the The Wellness Foundation three years later). It is home to Norfolk Children’s Yoga and Meditation Centre.
‘There was this growing need to look after not only my own health but the health of people around me,’ says Cata. And there was also a growing realisation: ‘The more I connected with nature the better I became. What I really craved was being outside.’ And she adds: ‘The natural progression from that was to look at what we’re doing to nature.’
Cata knew she could join organisations such as Extinction Rebellion Norwich to do her bit, but that wasn’t going to be enough for her: ‘I also needed to do something myself. I was doing a lot of work with people on an individual level and the next step was to do it on a community level.’
Struggling to shop with zero waste values in mind, it occurred to her: ‘If I’m struggling, what about everyone else? I’m going to have to do this myself.’ Cata and her husband, Dave Wain, decided that their home town of Aylsham probably wasn’t quite ready for its first zero waste store so they set about searching for somewhere suitable in Norwich. A site in Timberhill revealed itself and Re. Source, a general store and café, opened in April of last year.
‘I wanted it to be more than a shop’
And she had a vision. ‘I wanted it to be more than a shop. I wanted it to be a community space.’ So upstairs there’s a workshop space ‘to share knowledge, skills and talents to build and nurture more resilient communities,’ says Cata. ‘Re. Source is set up as a place where people can come together and learn together, and that’s definitely how it feels.
‘Most of our customers are regulars. It’s a community of people who come in and share recipes – it’s a really lovely feeling. My husband and I feel we have the nicest customers in the world, and they are doing their weekly shop with us.’
So everything was going to plan as they approached the store’s first birthday. ‘Then there was the small issue of the pandemic,’ says Cata. Realising there was a ‘mass outpouring of people’ who needed Re. Source to still be there for them (‘we’ve got quite a few vulnerable customers’), the couple immediately switched to a pre-order service for collection or delivery. Everything in the store is vegan or gluten free. ‘We care about people’s health and the health of the planet. It was important to us that we could get our food out to them.’
Soon after, Cata and Dave launched a pay it forward voucher scheme, for people to help each other out in such a time of need. ‘It wasn’t a hand-out,’ says Cata. Also, during lockdown, volunteers stepped up to help out at the store.
As for Cata herself? ‘I was shielding because of the health conditions.’ So it was down to Dave to keep the store going. ‘He has been amazing, especially over lockdown.’
She returned in June, ready for the shop reopening properly. Vulnerable customers have still been able to order online and to ask for their tubs to be refilled just the way they want them, be that half-full, quarter-full or right up to the top. ”We can do their shopping for them. It’s a really personal service, because it’s me and Dave and they know us.’
The café has also reopened, albeit a scaled back version. After all, as she says: ‘It’s just me and my husband.’ Oh, and 13-year-old Phaedra works in the store on a Saturday. They also have another daughter, aged 21, and a son, aged 24, who both live in Brighton. Their son has a one-year-old son of his own. ‘We haven’t seen him since February,’ says Cata.
‘I love him. He’s amazing’
Her husband deserves special mention, for the role he’s played in keeping the store open throughout this year. ‘I love him. He’s amazing. He’s been an NHS mental health worker for 20 years and literally handed in his notice a couple of weeks ago.’
So how’s Cata’s health now? ‘I definitely feel better, because I’m working for myself. I’m managing. I meditate and move a lot and make sure I connect with outside a lot.’
The couple might be tired – they haven’t had a break since Christmas. But she says: ‘We are hoping to take a holiday in October.’ She admits that it’s been a challenging year, financially, but she’s hopeful for the future and is planning to focus on developing the e-commerce side of the website this month.
At the end of the day, Cata firmly believes in her zero waste ethics of her store. ‘I know it’s a goer and something people want. It has to work and it will.’