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Fairtrade at St Andrew's - The Future



Purpose

This blog aims to summarise recent developments in Fairtrade at St Andrew’s, and changes in the wider landscape for Fairtrade. It also lays out the discernment and consultation which the Church family has been undertaking in 2024. Additionally, it will form the basis for discussion and decision for the PCC at their May meeting.

 

A (very) brief history

Fairtrade at St Andrew’s has a long history, dating back to the first table top stall in 1989, and seeing a number of iterations over the intervening 35 years. At the start, it was a ground-breaking ministry; Fairtrade was at that time marginal to mainstream shopping habits. The reasons Fairtrade at St Andrew’s started were those which have carried it through to the present day. By offering a fair and guaranteed price to producers in developing countries, Fairtrade brings God’s justice into being: ‘The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice’ (Proverbs 13:23.) Put quite simply, Fairtrade helps build God’s Kingdom in the here and now.

Fairtrade at St Andrew’s has been incredibly successful in raising awareness of the issue of trade justice, and has sold some £685,000 worth of goods over its lifetime.

Within our Mission Action Plan (MAP), Fairtrade falls under two of our strands, Kinship and Stewardship. It is not our only act of mission and ministry within those areas, but is part of a whole mosaic by which we express our faith in God.

Fairtrade at St Andrew’s has therefore been an important part of our DNA, and one significant expression of our ongoing heart for social justice. This heart will not be diminished in the face of any changes, but will find new and fresh expressions as we move into the future.

 

A changing landscape

Thanks in large part to early pioneers like St Andrew’s, fairly traded goods are now commonly available in supermarkets and online. From being a marginal and minority concern, the importance of Fairtrade is now widely understood and has become very much mainstream. Indeed, it is taught in the National Curriculum in our schools. From this point of view Fairtrade at St Andrew’s has achieved what it set out to do.

Traidcraft, one of the largest trading bodies for Fairtrade in the UK and main supplier of our shop, closed last year, having been in financial trouble for some time. This reflects the challenges of COVID, but also the consumer shift to buying fairly traded goods online and fairly traded groceries from mainstream shops such as supermarkets.

Many Churches who used to offer a Fairtrade stall no longer do so, including those in Bedford, which may be because of reduction in the number of volunteers, but also again reflecting the change in purchasing patterns of Fairtrade goods.

Here at St Andrew’s a number of our longstanding volunteers, who have offered years of wonderful commitment, have decided that the time has come to step back or step down. Our shop manager also retired last year. This has left a number of key roles unfilled, and was the root of the process we have undertaken in recent months.

 

The process to date

Following a number of conversations in late 2023 between and with those currently and historically involved with Fairtrade at St Andrew’s, a meeting was held on 7th February 2024 to reflect on and discuss the future of Fairtrade at St Andrews. While the meeting was open to the whole congregation, it was primarily for those closest to the shop to reflect and discuss what should happen next, and about a dozen people attended.

Three actions were decided as a result of that meeting, namely to:

Pray. Evening Prayer on Mondays between 7th February and Easter had focussed prayer for Fairtrade.

Inform. An article was put in the e newsletter and flagged on the pew sheet, outlining developments.

Consult. A questionnaire was designed and circulated by hard copy and electronically to the Church family.

 

Consultation


Questionnaire

 50 completed questionnaires were received. The highlights of the results are as follows:

  • Members of the congregation have a range of ethical considerations in mind when making purchasing decisions. These include food miles, animal cruelty, organic production, recycling, single use plastics, and small producers, as well as Fairtrade. As consumers the Church family is highly informed and thoughtful about what we buy.

  • Almost half of respondents bought fairly traded goods once a week.

  • However, as a Church we are not reliant on St Andrew’s shop for our Fairtrade purchases, for example 98% of respondents bought fairly trade goods in supermarkets. Of those who bought Fairtrade goods in St Andrew’s shop, only one did not also buy elsewhere; this respondent indicated that they bought ‘rarely.’

  • When asked: ‘Given the whole range of mission and ministry at St Andrew’s, how likely would you be to offer time to running the Fairtrade shop at St Andrew’s?’ only 5 people indicted that they were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to offer time to run the Fairtrade shop. No one indicated that they were willing to take on the co-ordination of Fairtrade at St Andrew’s.

 

Conversation

The core Fairtrade team and the Vicar met in March to reflect on the questionnaire results. They discussed a range of possible options for the future of Fairtrade at St Andrew’s, including:

  • business as usual with new volunteers

  • reducing the number of lines of stock, with several buyers sourcing goods from different suppliers

  • moving to an order driven model, with goods bought from Daily Bread in Northampton

 

They also drew up brief role descriptions for the tasks which needed filling depending on which model was adopted:

Co-ordinator: Oversight of the whole, main point of contact, co-ordinate with buyer(s), organise  shop rota.

Buyer(s):       Sourcing and ordering goods, making decisions about stock, arranging payment with treasurer.

Pricing:         Labelling / marking goods for sale.

Purchasing:    Trips to Daily Bread in Northampton.

Ordering:     Creating and maintaining and distributing order form, distributing forms, collecting completed forms and passing on to buyers. Ensuring payment of orders.

Distribution: Arranging for collection or delivery of completed orders.

Shop:           Opening the shop on Sundays, Wednesday and the first Friday morning of the month. Taking payments.

Stock taker:  Keeping track of stock levels, purchasing patterns, sell by dates.

Treasurer:    Payments, banking, accounts. Organising annual stock take

Outside events: Organising, transporting and selling goods at other venues.

Advertising / education: Articles for Church and other audiences, social media, posters.

 

Of these, only the treasurer and advertising roles currently had sufficient volunteers in place. It was therefore agreed that the options for operation and the role descriptions should be put to a meeting open to the whole Church family. In the interim, conversations with individuals continued to try to discern whether more volunteers would be forthcoming.

 

Church family meeting

A meeting was held on Sunday 14th April after the 10am service, to enable as many people as possible to attend; 32 people were present. It was an honest, searching, prayerful and at times painful meeting, where people spoke and listened with grace. The purpose of Fairtrade, its history at St Andrew’s, the changing landscape, questionnaire results and possible operating models were explained to the gathered group.


(A personal parenthesis from Lucy: I find it hard to summarise and do justice to the conversation which took place, because of the understandable levels of sadness in the room, not least my own, but hope the following goes some way to capturing the flavour of what was said.)


  • Fairtrade at St Andrew’s has been a huge success, both in raising awareness and the quantity produce sold, and that should be celebrated.

  • Drawing something to a close does not in any way negate what it has achieved.

  • A number of possible approaches were suggested to keep selling Fairtrade goods at St Andrew’s, but given that we cannot fill key roles, in the end none seemed plausible.

  • There was huge sadness at the thought of the shop closing because it has been a part of our DNA for so long, but there was a recognition that affection for the shop was not equalled by volunteers wanting to run it.

  • The landscape of Fairtrade has changed so much that it is embedded in the mainstream, and does not need Church stalls or shops to champion the cause for producers in the same way it did 35 years ago.

  • Although it is very often painful, things in Churches come to an end – ‘For everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven,’ Ecclesiastes 3:1.

  • As a Church we have to discern where our time and energies are spent in this season. We cannot do everything, so the questions to ask ourselves are: ‘Is Fairtrade shop still core to the mission of St Andrew’s?’ and ‘What, as a Church family, are we being called by God to do now, next?’

  • Without someone for whom the leadership of Fairtrade shop is a vocation, it cannot flourish. This is true for all ministries within the Church.

  • The charism of the Church is rooted in the charism of its members. If the gifts, skills and calling of the Church family now lie in places other than in the Fairtrade shop, then those are the areas we need to develop and express.

  • St Andrew’s retains a strong heart for social justice, and the Holy Spirit is at work to show us new places it might be expressed, including for example creation care, new mission and outreach partnerships, the warm room and Bedford winter night shelter. The Creation Care group and Mission and Outreach Team may well have a role to play in advocacy for Fairtrade into the future.

After a time of prayer, the consensus of the room was that the time is right to draw the Fairtrade shop to an end. We acknowledged that although we were sad, this was the right and only possible decision.

 

The Future

  • Those at the Church family meeting on 14th April 2024 were unanimous that St Andrew’s would continue to be a Fairtrade Church, using fairly traded good across our activities, from tea and coffee to toilet roll. We would also continue to educate and advocate, for example keeping Fairtrade fortnight.

  • The consensus of the Church family meeting was that the Fairtrade shop should draw to an end. This will not be an immediate closure, as existing stock is sold over a period of time. The process by which this happens will need to be worked out by the Fairtrade team, Standing Committee and the Vicar over the coming months.

  • This decision needs to be approved by the PCC, and will come before them for discussion on 22nd May 2024.

  • The contribution of Fairtrade to God’s mission through St Andrew’s must be marked and celebrated. This is planned to happen on Sunday 22nd September 2024. That date also marks the end of Fairtrade fortnight, and 30 years of the introduction of the Fairtrade mark. It coincides with Creationtide, thereby recognising the importance of Fairtrade in our ongoing creation care work. We hope that the Archdeacon of Bedford will preach and preside at a celebratory service, and there will be a sale of goods in the Hall that day, open to the local community.

 

Rev Canon Lucy Davis

on behalf of the Fairtrade Team

and Standing Committee

24th April 2024

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