The ethical way to shop local

A former lingerie and chocolate shop has been given a new lease of life as an eco store. Catherine Scott reports.

Long before Sir David Attenborough and Blue Planet got us all thinking about plastics, a Yorkshire couple were doing their bit to get us to think about sustainability.

Hugh Fink and Sharon Longcroft own Fink Home and Nature in Boroughbridge which opened just over a year ago.

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The aim of the business is not to preach but to try to make it easier for people to make changes to their lifestyle even if just on a small scale.

“We are all busy people and none of us is perfect, but we just wanted to help people to make some positive changes. It is better to make small changes than make no changes at all,” says Sharon.

The penny had started to drop for Sharon and Hugh some years ago.

“We had two cars, Hugh was commuting to Ashby de la Zouch and one day we just realised that we were living a very high carbon footprint lifestyle.”

When The Fruit Basket, a greengrocers in Boroughbridge, came up for sale they decided to go for it. “Hugh had always liked the idea of having his own business, even though we knew very little about running a small retail business.” But the idea just wouldn’t go away and eventually the couple decided to give it a go.

The shop was something of a local institution, having been in the town for 21 years. Having a background in training and psychology, Sharon was aware that they couldn’t just storm in and change everything.

They adopted a softly, softly approach, making gradual adjustment to the stock to fulfil Hugh’s ambition for it to become a luxury food emporium and eventually changing the name to Fink.

That was more than six years ago and now Fink has become a well established business in its own right, with Hugh being the current chairman of Boroughbridge Chamber of Trade.

Once they were running the business Sharon was still determined that they needed to do more the help people be more sustainable.

Feature on Fink Home and Narure, High Street, Boroughbridge...10th September 2019.Picture by Simon Hulme

“I’d always used Ecover products when I was a student, then I got busy and a bit lazy. But once we had the shop I wanted to have refillable Ecover products. We quite quickly realised that we weren’t the only people who were looking at how they were living.”

Fink already sold loose and packet bird seed but the bird seed and the Ecover didn’t really sit well with the other produce stocked in the fine food emporium Hugh strived to create.

Three years after opening Fink they had expanded into a former lingerie shop a few doors down and turned it into a luxury chocolate shop, Sweet Fink.

But as their desire to be more environmentally-friendly grew and a member of staff left, they decided to incorporate the chocolate shop into Fink and last summer Fink Home and Nature opened.

“We stock a broad selection of environmentally-friendly household cleaning and laundry products, as well as ethical beauty ranges and giftware,” says Sharon.

“We also make sure that pets and gardens are looked after with everything from bee bombs to meal worms.”

With more than 20 eco lines ‘on tap’, including products from several Yorkshire companies (household items from Hull-based Bio D and natural ethical skincare from York-based Cosy Cottage), Fink Home and Nature hopes that the variety and diversity of its offer will encourage customers to visit more often and make refills and eco-shopping part of their normal routine.

“People worry about whether doing the right thing for the planet will be bad for their wallets,” adds Sharon, “but we align our prices as closely as we can to supermarket prices for similar products and never compromise on quality.”

Sharon says they never claim to be 100 per cent plastic-free, but that was never their aim.

“It is about sustainability and I don’t believe all plastic is bad. If you reuse plastics, such as Tupperware, then I believe that’s fine. We run the risk of demonising all plastics. For us it is as much about what is inside the packaging as the packaging itself.

“We are looking at a bigger picture, while helping people to reduce their reliance on plastic, we also want to encourage them to use more sustainable products.”

Sharon says she happy for people to come forward with suggestions and they are happy to order products for people that might not be available in the shop.

But is she worried that supermarkets such as Waitrose seem to be following in their footsteps?

“Not at all,” says Sharon. “The easier it is for people to do the right thing all the better.”

When they first opened they found themselves in something of a paradox. “People were travelling from Harrogate and the Dales which somewhat was at odds with our ethos of reducing carbon emissions, but at the same time it was really nice that word had spread.”

Sharon is happy to fill up any bottles with her eco brands which she fills from a store at the back of the shop.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to make the switch to eco-friendly products, We know that people are worried about the environmental impact of pollution and plastics and we’re here to give them an alternative way to shop.”

To celebrate its 1st birthday, Fink Home and Nature has a new Refill Loyalty Card to encourage regular refills, with 10 per cent off the 10th top up.

Fink Home and Nature is at 32 High Street, Borougbridge, North Yorkshire.

Sharon Longcroft (right) pictured with Sally Tessyman in Fink Home and Nature.Picture by Simon Hulme