A family come in. Dad admires the workmanship of oak hinges on a locally made box. Mum’s lost in a book on becoming a bee keeper, daughter and friend giggling try out nail varnish in the second hand section, the little one has discovered toys below the shelves where big brother is touching an old metal axe with a carved new handle. Dad calls mum to see the satin finish bowls turned by the man that changed Welsh planning policy when his secret round house was discovered. The girls call Mum to approve them trying on skirts, big brother calls Dad to see a rehandled vintage garden fork that won’t bend like the one at home. Paying they say: ‘Love your shop, how long have you been here?’
Cardigan Ecoshop is two years old, a success, its stock a hitherto untried potpouree. It feeds both the best intellects and the simplest needs. It returns solid financial support for Alpay Torgut's ForestGarden on the edge of town which is the shop’s charitable purpose.
Sue Hutchinson is the creative mind behind the stock. For a year she has built it up, reflecting her eclectic take on Eco. She explains:
“Humans are typically sociable comfort loving creatures who stay with the herd, but since humans first wandered from Africa there have always been the pioneers, those willing to forego the comfort zone to find something better for the tribe.
‘That’s me, not wandering from home but moving to a different lifestyle that does not pollute. I live without machines, lightly on the earth, and you know it is fun, it feels good so I wanted to share what I have discovered. That’s how this shop was born. My youngest had started school, so I had the time.
As a practical mother Sue understands the range of things that families need. Something for children to play with, information and inspiration, cheap things for the pleasure of buying, free back-issues, practical materials for all aspects of home life: healing, building, gardening, decorating, cleaning and clothes both practical and for dressing up. Sue’s artistic flair for design and creating magic spaces has got these disparate parts to work together.
Customers range between browsers drawn by the healing and edible plants outside and the unusual window dressing, who have no concept or interest in eco, to a new type of customer, the green tourist. These are full of excitement at what they see as an area which is becoming the UK epicentre of eco. Regular comments by customers: Why is it all happening here? What a lot of amazing things are in this area. I would love to move here when I can afford it / if my job could be moved / when I have children.
If these comments represent a genuine trend to the improved desirability of the area this is significant. It is when people with their lives ahead of them, who have the choice want to move and bring up their children in an area, you know that area has got something right. This is more significant than GDP which is a deeply flawed measure of anything.
‘Cardi’ jokes are about thrift or not letting go, and Cardigan has a history of recapturing assets. It is one town that has managed to capture grown up sums from the UK and Europe and turn them into something tangible. Theatre Mwldan, the Media Cente and Small World Theatre are testimony to that from the Objective One days, and last year the Castle Restoration Society cornered £4.5 million and work is steaming ahead, not just to restore the castle to its former fascinating vain glory, but to make it a valuable centre for events and activities for the public. CardiganCastle has a unique history because it was regularly recaptured by Welsh lords who rebuilt and improved and celebrated the Welsh culture here. It was equally regularly captured by English forces including Cromwell’s vandals. It was home of the first or forerunner of the Eisteddfod, and was finally recaptured by the community from the last owner who, proud and solitary, lived impoverished in a caravan while the Castle crumbled. I met her there, and after telling me off for trespassing we got on well. Takes one (determined individualist) to know one!
‘Ecochic’ was cultivated to lure the wealthy and trendy. Cardigan has this strand represented by FForest and Howies. Cardigan Ecoshop and Produce Market are managing to develop a unique timely new appeal: Ecocheap.