There has been Fairtrade activity in Suffolk for many years, but it was not until the 21st century that towns began to show an interest in gaining Fairtrade Town Status; the pioneer being Lowestoft who gained their award in 2004, followed by Beccles 3 years later in 2007. Ipswich, Woodbridge and Framlingham and followed on in 2008 and close on their heels was Felixstowe and Leiston in 2009. With the certification of Sudbury in 2013 and Bury St Edmunds in 2014 this brought the total to 9 in the county. Most of us were more or less completely unaware of each otherís existence, but all this changed in the spring of 2016.
During Fairtrade Fortnight we were blessed with a visit from the delightful Kenyan tea farmer, Patrick Kaberia, who toured East Anglia and left a trail of inspiration wherever he went. Knowledgeable and articulate he was able to connect with people of all ages and describe from first hand experience the benefits Fairtrade brings to his community of around 10,000 smallholder tea farmers. He explained though that they cannot get the maximum benefit by selling all their tea through Fairtrade because the market share is not yet big enough.
During the weeks preceding his visit, organising his itinerary involved close communication between seven of the Fairtrade towns with emails flitting back and forth like a shower of confetti. We also discovered each otherís Facebook pages and a website for the tour was created. Out of all this came the idea of forming a county association for all the Fairtrade towns in Suffolk.
To this end a gathering was arranged in a venue to the west of the county attended by around 35 people representing seven of the towns. We were thrilled to welcome Michael Gidney, CE of the Fairtrade Foundation as our special guest. He updated us on latest developments, and spoke of the need to be more closely connected as an organisation and to strengthen our network.
After a magnificent lunch provided by our hosts from Bury St Edmunds, each town gave a short presentation about how they gained Fairtrade Town status and their activities and achievements - all very inspiring to hear how committed everyone is to the ideal of justice in global trade. With all the stalls, staging of events and participating in community events it is possible to talk directly to people about Fairtrade and explain how it works to transforms lives. Its such a people-power thing and we all need to participate because its not always possible for governments and companies to do the right thing.
In the future we plan to update our www.fairtradesuffolk.org.uk website to reflect the founding of the County Association and create a Facebook page. We will be contacting the 2 Fairtrade towns which have yet to join us and hope to encourage other towns to work towards certification. We will be planning for a co-ordinated media campaign during Fairtrade Fortnight 2017 and also be keeping in touch via email and social media with each other until our next meeting. In the longer term, we hope to be able to gain certification for Suffolk as a Fairtrade County.
Steph Bennell - Fairtrade Town Co-ordinator, Framlingham; one of the 7 founding towns of the Suffolk Association.