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Mad About Kent: The Keep it in Kent Community Blog

NOvember Challenge 2015

Day 30 - Last day of the #NOvember Challenge 2015!

Wow, what a month it has been! We hope you've enjoyed reading our updates here, on our Facebook page and in our YouTube Channel... As you'll have seen, we've discovered some great new places to go shopping and exploring, and have managed most of the time to keep our spending local.

Funnily most people we've told about the #NOvember Challenge have looked at us in total surprise, as if we've told them about a gruelling sponsored trek up Mount Kilimanjaro, or a planned dive with sharks! "Yes, really!" we reply, "We're not spending in any major branded shops, supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas, clothes shops, or spending with businesses that aren't primarily based in Kent... EVEN petrol!"

As challenges for a good cause go, both Steve and I would opt for this one every time! It's been as far from gruelling as a birthday treat. Yes, we've had to be a bit better at planning when/where we're going to shop, and when it came to eating, we've found ourselves cooking lots more from scratch. Having said that, we had so much choice by way of restaurants, cafes and local pubs, we could have quite easily eaten out every day if we'd been inclined to do so.

The aim of the challenge wasn't to save money, nor was it to prove that Keeping it in Kent costs more, or less than our usual shopping habits. Instead, we decided to imagine that the chains just didn't exist, and then to run our lives pretty much as normal. The results? Well it's pretty anecdotal, but we reckon we spent about 10% more overall this month - and that was probably because we were like kiddies in a sweet shop, eager to try lots of new things in a short period of time.

So, what next? Well, now that #NOvember is coming to a close, we will lift the self-imposed embargo on Supermarkets and chain stores, but we certainly won't be quite so reliant on them anymore. We've grown very fond of our jaunts out into the various parts of Kent, picking up bits and bobs from here and there. Returning to doing a huge weekly shop in a rather bland, brightly lit supermarket, full of in-your-face advertising and promotions just doesn't appeal anymore. Life feels calmer, simpler and... yes, dare I say it? Happier!

We shall begin the festive season as we mean the rest of the year and 2016 to go on - shopping/spending locally whenever and wherever we can, and rather than feeling self-righteous for it, it will undoubtedly just feel - just... right!

Thanks for all your support

Tina & Steve xx


Wednesday 11th Nov:

Despite keeping things very local this month, the dashboard fuel light came on last week, indicating that the time had come for us to fill up our car with petrol. There's a local garage that sells petrol in Kennington, so we thought this wouldn't be too much grief. So off we drove with the last 5 miles of fuel in the tank...

...only to be greeted by "No Fuel" signs.  (Evidence, right!)

So we were faced with our first dilemma of the #NOvember challenge - to risk running out of fuel on the road, or succumbing to the omnipresent national petrol stations. In the end we decided that it would be a good compromise to go to our local Sainsbury's and put in just £5 worth of fuel to tide us over. Which is what we did.

Normal stress levels resumed, we went on a search for a local petrol station that did have some fuel for us to buy. As we had a meeting in Canterbury later that day, we decided to try Hillside Garage in Bilting, on the A28.  Not only did they have fuel, but a pleasant young man came to fill the tank for us.  At 123.9 per litre it wasn't the cheapest petrol purchase, but we did achieve our goal of buying petrol locally - and in the end and it only cost an extra £6 for the whole tank.  We can't help but think that if more of us used the independent garages for fuel, then the prices might come down a bit.

Anyway, here is the video we made:



Saturday 7th Nov:

As much as I enjoy watching The Great British Bake Off and other wholesome cookery programmes on TV, I'm not really a stay at home and bake sort of person myself. Much like many people we know, we lead such busy lives that we usually look for any and every modern convenience to streamline the process of day-to-day nourishment. Like buying pre-prepared veg, that's washed, peeled, chopped and conveniently portioned into nicely sealed plastic bags. Or grabbing a microwaveable carton of lovely fresh soup from the chiller cabinet in the supermarket.

So ordinarily we might have cracked open one of those convenient cartons of supermarket soup, but last Saturday, we decided to rise to the #NOvember challenge and make our own...

We do have a fabulous gadget called a "soup maker" that cooks and liquidises everything for you, so the only obstacle to proper #NOvember challenge home made soup was the buying and the cutting up of the veg!

If you remember, the previous weekend, we bought a lovely little orange pumpkin from the Farm Shop (Perry Court). It had been sitting on the kitchen window sill like a left over Halloween decoration, or a prop from a Cinderella panto. I hadn't touched the pumpkin, partly because I was enjoying it brightening up our kitchen, with its cheery colour and curious shape, but also because (as sad as it sounds) I was put off by the thought of the "faff" of cutting it up, de-seeding it and cooking it.

So Saturday lunch time, I decided it was time to bite the bullet. It was pumpkin and sweet potato soup making day! I thought I may as well really go for it, and photographed each step, marvelling at the beauty of the pumpkin at each stage. Not wanting to waste anything, I even roasted the seeds with a little sweet smoked paprika for a tasty snack.

Here's the little video I made from the photos I took of the process: From farm shop to table in a few easy steps!



 How cool is that?! It was, I hasten to add, extremely tasty - if I say so myself. And without any additives or flavour enhancers (salt, sugar, monosodium glutamate and the like...) it was super-healthy too.


Monday 2nd Nov:

Buoyed with the success of our first shopping trip of the #NOvember challenge at Perry Court Farm Shop, we started the working week on a high. For Tina, it was a day working in Southborough, Tunbridge Wells which turned out to be a mixed day NOvember Challenge-wise. Trying to find a parking spot was a definite low point, but discovering a lovely local bakery was a real find... there's nothing quite like fresh baked goods to cheer the soul!

I arrived in foggy Southborough on Monday morning with a few minutes to spare before my appointment, hopefully with just enough time to find a parking space and walk to The Southborough Centre - the serviced offices in a converted Victorian Warehouse just behind the London Road. It's always good to spot a blue P for parking sign, but even better to find it pointing to a car park that's free! The problem with the little car park at Pennington Road is that it seems to be perpetually full - well it is whenever I get there! I usually drive in full of hope that there will be one last space waiting for me at the back, and then duly turn around and go in search of on street parking.





On Monday I was quite lucky, as I did find a space in a nearby side street within 5 minutes and I got to work just about on time. The residential streets are extremely narrow all around that part of Tunbridge Wells and certainly not built for today's big cars. I completely understand why people who don't live within easy walking distance would prefer to shop where there's a nice spacious car park. And I suspect the local residents are happier when people keep themselves and their cars away too.

Not being particularly well organised, I usually begin to think about what to do for lunch whilst driving down the M20... and I will often plump for stopping at a garage on the way and picking up a ready made sandwich and a can of diet something. Monday was no different, until I reached the usual garage and realised that I would be breaking the #NOvember challenge rules. 

Fortunately when it came to lunch time, someone pointed me in the direction of the bakery on the London Road. I wandered down, enjoying the sunshine which had by now broken through the fog. I was a little nervous about what I'd find - at least with a garage, the sandwiches are predictable if a tad over-priced! To my pleasant surprise, I had been directed to The Rusbridge Family Bakery, a lovely little bakery which produces a wide selection of traditional and speciality breads, rolls, pasties, buns and cakes, and has been owned by the same family for three generations. I was greeted with a warm welcome, and bought a delicious and generously filled ham salad roll. My verdict? Far more satisfying than a garage sandwich could ever be, and a much nicer experience altogether.





Local bakery - ONE, garage shop - NIL!


Sunday 1st Nov:

You know the situation 2.30pm on a Sunday afternoon and you realise that you don't have anything much in the fridge for dinner. But that doesn't matter because the supermarkets are open until 4pm.  That would normally be fine but seeing as we are not buying anything from a national chain for the whole of November, that could have been a problem.  "I know, let's go to Perry Court Farm Shop" said Steve, "but we'd better go now because I have no idea what time they are open till on a Sunday".  Luckily for us all they are open 9am to 6pm every day! See our video below... 










You've probably seen a few tweets and Facebook posts already about the Keep it in Kent "NOvember Challenge"...

It all started as a passing comment made one day last autumn, when Steve and I were driving somewhere - that's when we come up with most of our good ideas! We were discussing the fact that a few people had said to us in person, and via social media comments, that they would do more to support local businesses, but it's too expensive and it's less convenient than the big supermarkets and well-known brands. Which is what got us thinking. Supposing it was just a perception that it's more expensive, and less convenient to spend locally? Supposing it is actually easier and more cost-effective than we're led to believe?

One of us said (I can't remember which of us came up with this particular idea...)

Let's test it out!

We decided that to give it a fair test, we should dedicate a whole month to spending locally. November seemed like a good month. It's the run-up to the annual Small Business Saturday when there's a growing awareness of the need to support local businesses, and it's also when the local shops are brimming with wonderful freshly harvested produce, as well as the bountiful displays of Christmas treats!

So that's how "NOvember" was born... we managed to Keep it in Kent for the whole of NOvember 2014, by spending as much of our usual monthly budget in Kent-based businesses as we could. There were a few challenges (like where to buy cat food late at night), but on the whole, the experience was a revelation! Yes, it was sometimes a bit more expensive than popping into our local supermarket, but we soon discovered that there are plenty of choices across the spectrum. If we wanted to pay a little more for a personalised service and quality local goods and services we could, and if we wanted to be a bit more cost-conscious, there were plenty of local places that surprisingly beat many of the big branded businesses on price - such as by selling produce without the fancy (and expensive) packaging, or by manufacturing in smaller premises and selling at markets, which presumably cuts down on overheads.

We could go so far as to say that completing the Keep it in Kent November challenge totally changed our spending habits - not just during the month of November, but during the whole of the past 12 months. Whenever we have the chance, we'll now pop into a local shop or market to see what goodies we can find, and we try to think about how to "Keep it in Kent" whenever sourcing goods and services for our own businesses.

So here we are again, today is the first day of November, and we're excited about doing the NOvember challenge this year to see if we can discover even more locally owned, independent businesses to support and enjoy throughout the coming year.

Our self-imposed rules for the month are as follows:

- NO shopping in supermarkets
- NO drinking in well known coffee shops, or pub chains
- NO eating in restaurant chains
- NO visits to national cinema chains
- NO petrol from multinational garages
- NO shopping in large chemist chains or clothes shops, garden centres or furniture shops...

In fact, we'll do our level best to keep as much of our expenditure locally in Kent for the whole month of NOvember! There aren't any forfeits for breaking the rules, but we need to have a VERY good reason for doing so. We won't necessarily be restricting ourselves to consuming things that are grown and made in Kent - that will be a bonus. But what we will do is challenge ourselves to check out as many as we can within our usual shopping habits.

Now we have set up our "Mad About Kent" Community Blog, we're going to keep you posted here, to let you know how we get on. So you can pop back and read about our findings.

Would you like to take the NOvember challenge with us?? If you'd like to experience ‎"Keeping it in Kent"‬ for ‪#‎NOvember, do let us know and share your experiences with us!

See you soon

Tina & Steve xx

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