COGs of Coventry
Hi Rachel, and thanks for joining this COVzero interview today! Do you want to tell us a bit more about yourself?
Hi! My name is Rachel and I am an ex-special needs teacher and taught for 25 years.
I started working life in the City of London – I’m an Essex girl – shhhhh don’t tell anyone…and as every school leaver in the late 80s, I went to work for a bank in the City but after a couple of years, I felt I wanted to do something with a bit more soul, so came to Coventry to study teaching at Warwick Uni, with Geography as my main subject.
Coventry became home.
I played water polo with the City’s women’s team – it was great fun and gave me roots, my bestest, oldest friends and such an amazing experience of playing internationally. Halcyon Days…. in between then and now, I’ve been all kinds of things and now find myself selling whole foods in Coventry Market, which sells all kinds of everything, as you know….if in doubt, search Harry Hill and Coventry Market.
Wow, that is such an amazing journey. So how was the idea of COGs of Coventry born?
I decided now or never a couple of years ago. The death of my Aunt prompted a whole lot of self-analysis… and here I am. I opened COGs in September 2019. My personal mission was to make the world a little bit greener for my sons, their generation and those to come. The mess is not of their making and we need to show everyone that changes can make a difference to our health and the health of our home, Earth.
Why are you so passionate about sustainability?
I first learned about Global Warming, now better described as Climate Change, whilst studying A Levels back in the 80s. At that time, I recall the BBC presenting this as turning the UK weather into something more like the South of France…. but in lessons we learned different consequences. As a result, I have always been the family hippy, though I consider myself more an aspiring hippy than an actual one!
I’ve biked to work, not flown very much at all, went veggie then vegan (though pregnancy got me back on cheese), bought organic food as much as I can, recycled (even when that meant carrying my bag of paper, glass and cans into town to deposit them in the recycle bins which were by the Market).
I was a little bit of an oddball but these are things we actually do now and think nothing of it. There’s more we can do and COGs aims to support that change and offer an alternative to those on that journey and, hopefully, open others to the ideas too.
Tell us a bit more about COGs of Coventry, what is it about?
So, we sell local produce where we can source locally made goods – we also aim to provide everything as organic, we go plastic free and ethical. It is not easy to attain all these things together but everything we sell has a lower impact on the environment than mainstream products. Our loo roll for example is locally made in Leicestershire from UK recycled paper… it hasn’t come from China like many other brands of eco-loo roll. There are many things to balance when choosing stock and sometimes the choices are really difficult to make.
We are always honest with our customers about where things are from and how they are made – sometimes our customers bring issues to our attention and we will act on that as soon as we can. Check out cashew nut production, ethics and working conditions. Who knew? We do now and do not want to profit from the exploitation of other people whether they are in the UK or anywhere else on our planet. Equally, we avoid lots of terrible things like rainforest depleting products and US soy bean products (don’t get me started on Monsanto).
We will refine and change what we do as we learn more – we can never know everything. Being greener is a journey and we are on that every bit as much as our customers.
How has COVID-19 impacted you and your business?
In some respects, leaving a well paid job in Septemebr 2019 was a mistake given what we didn’t know was coming at that point! However, we were new then and so needed customers. Social media is one of those things I think many of us have a love-hate relationship with, but it has truly been that which has kept us in contact with our customers.
We have been open every week of the pandemic. We could see what was happening in January 2020 and decided hand sanitiser was important and stocked up on some to use between customers in the stall. There are a lot of international students in the City – and we know viruses travel on planes every bit as quickly as humans… so we were concerned about catching this horrible virus…. since then, we have been carefully watching the news from around the world and picking up tips and strategies to keep safe. We had an appointment system at the height of the crisis last year so customers could have the space to themselves, offer click and collect, deliveries and adapted what we offer so that we could be a pretty much, complete weekly shop for customers who were isolating.
We are open in the Market and operating as normally as we can. No self-service at the moment but that will follow later this year when we are satisfied it’s safe to do so and you can turn up as you please. We have social distancing in place, face masks, keep the doors open all the time (even in that minus 5 in Feb), wash hands…. emmmm lots of extra hygiene – so I only use scoops once before they are washed – to prevent transference from customers’ own containers… or us or wherever this sodding virus lingers….
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
I would love to team up with the Food Bank and Social Supermarket to offer eco-friendly cleaning products to their customers.
We have an amazing range of cleaning products from SESI (check them out too) which are very affordable and with some tinkering from them, us and perhaps a grant, we could offer the families who need support with costs, a way to be eco-friendly and plastic-free.https://sesi.org.uk/
I have guesstimated some figures around reducing plastic waste and a small number of people changing to refill could save 1000s of plastic bottles each year, being used just once. None of this is impossible – it takes a bit of organising and some determination, but we can do it.
Ultimately, I’d like to see COGs have it’s own base too. A shop / premises which can double up for many uses and support the community in Coventry. Perhaps it morphs into a CIC (Community Interest Company).
Perhaps it becomes a green hub… I don’t really know, I just know that some plans floating around in my head which will be fun and fulfilling to enact.
Wherever COGs goes, I suspect the teacher in me is unlikely to let my social conscience disappear. I think business in general needs to change.
We are nothing without community.
What do you think about City of Culture 2021?
I am really excited about the City of Culture. We have really enjoyed the Window Wanderland – and kind of threw one up which was a bit rubbish – did you see the cogs and clocks with the hands above, all the Ska windows, or my friend’s window with the dandelions blowing (yes, S… I loved that, very you, beautiful) … amazing.
We have been tangentially involved with the Tales from Coventry Tables (check them out too) and are really hoping to be involved with a legacy project they are planning all around food and culture. You saw it here first…. but they have some amazing ideas and are awaiting funding outcomes.
What is your message to the people of Coventry for this 2021?
2021 offers the opportunity to be the change.
We are emerging from the least lovely time of my life and for some, this time has been devastating whether you’ve been affected by the virus directly or the side-effects of the virus and restrictions. Somethings have changed for the better though and keeping hold off those changes is important equally, analysing what is important to us to live better lives.
I think people have been pleasantly surprised at things like more time at home, less consumerism and more cooking / gardening / sewing / learning / woodwork / cycles into the country and so on… simple things that are actually lovely.
Perhaps we can look again at how we live, slow down and take more care of each other, our city and our planet!