I am delighted that Tonbridge has achieved Fairtrade Town Status.
Our journey started some two years ago when the local Friends of the Earth group help a meeting to celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight and it was suggested by Neill Barston, a then reporter for the Times of Tonbridge that we should become a Fairtrade Town.
I knew about the Fairtrade movement of course but ,I have to be honest, I had no idea what was involved in becoming a Fairtrade Town but it seemed like a good idea. After all, it was bound to be simple… wasn’t it? I didn’t realise at the time that there was much more to it than simply making a declaration.
This is where the the Town Team stepped in. We started to explore what it would entail and what, if anything, the town would gain.
It turned out that becoming a Fairtrade Town was much more challenging than we had anticipated. The standards are high and the criteria stringent. There are five initial goals.
The local council needed to support the idea and pass a resolution, we needed to have local shops selling a range of at least four Fairtrade product lines each, schools, faith groups, workplaces and others in the community needed to be signed up, we also needed media support and finally, we needed to form a steering group.
Thankfully, we managed to achieve all five goals but it was once the Borough Council had passed a resolution of support that we we’re able to move forward. This was the crucial turning point and it provided the motive power to drive the project forward.
Cllr Frixos Tombolis came on board and agreed to chair the steering group and Jeremy Whittaker, the TMBC Economic Regeneration Officer put in a huge amount of effort, contacting retailers and putting the application together. We all owe him a huge vote of thanks for making all this happen and also a big thanks to the Council Leader, Nicolas Heslop, for taking the project on board and M&S and their PR company, Grayling, have also been hugely supportive
Now we are looking forward to our first Fairtrade Fortnight, the big annual Fairtrade promotion (from 25 February to 10 March) as a Fairtrade Town. But, there’s still lots to do. We need to get more people involved and we need to make sure everybody understands what Fairtrade is about.
We want to involve as many people as possible so we will be talking to businesses and civil society groups and organising as many events as we can, encouraging others to come up with ideas and to join the party! Being a Fairtrade Town shows that Tonbridge is serious about offering people a shopping experience that they can be proud of. We, as a community, really care about where our products come from and how they are produced. We understand that trade is a force for good as long as it is fair to everybody and that the producer and consumer are linked by a bond of mutual responsibility.
The Fairtrade premium and pricing structure helps producers in developing countries but it also helps our town and retailers who sell Fairtrade products. Shoppers today are far more sophisticated and knowledgeable than in the past and the provenance of products is something more and more people demand. It’s the same level of awareness that has helped to make Tonbridge Farmers’ Market one of the most successful in Kent.
Over the coming weeks and months we will be putting together a range of ideas to bring people together to celebrate and take forward the Fairtrade principle. I hope everybody in the town will join us and, if you are interested in helping out, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Chair, Tonbridge Town Team
Tonbridge retail outlets offering four or more Fairtrade product ranges: