Skopa - the innovative local store doing its bit for the environment

Oils and vinegars at Skopa

Oils and vinegars at Skopa - Credit: Archant

Catherine Roth talks to the owners of a Wirksworth zero-waste store with the community and environment at its heart

L-R - Belinda and Sarah

L-R - Belinda and Sarah - Credit: Archant

Two local residents have brought a new shopping experience to Wirksworth’s high street in the form of Skopa, a zero-waste premises that opened its doors earlier this year and run by Sarah Cumberland and Belinda Wilkins.

Skopa was born from Sarah and Belinda’s frustrations of shopping in supermarkets. When a mutual friend introduced them to one another, it was the beginning of a journey that would see them open their first shop just nine months later and become good friends in the process.

‘We wanted to create a packaging free zero waste experience for people at affordable prices’, says Sarah.

‘There is so much single-use and other packaging going to landfill and I saw supermarkets were moving too slowly towards reducing its use. The driver for me was that we’ve got to do something differently. I’m not anti-plastic - it’s incredibly useful – but we need to reduce how much packaging altogether we use on items that just don’t need it.’

Chocolate gooseberries in a jar

Chocolate gooseberries in a jar - Credit: Archant

It was Belinda’s idea to open a shop. A baker and cook at heart, her drive was rooted in nostalgia.

‘There was a little bit of wanting to turn the clock back and return to the experience I had as a child,’ she says. ‘That involved going with my nan to an old-fashioned food shop. I remember shopping then as an experience – you went in and someone helped you.’

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Skopa currently sells around 350 different products, 60% of which are food items. Step inside and instead of rows of bottles, boxes and packets there are containers filled with everything from cereals, pasta, beans and pulses, oils and vinegars, herbs and spices, nuts and dried fruits, teas and coffees... the list goes on. As well as food items, Skopa offers a range of environmentally friendly cleaning products, personal care and household items.

Although the concept is a simple one, it operates a different system to a typical supermarket shop and Sarah and Belinda are on hand to explain to each customer how it works.

The vast array of dispensers at the store

The vast array of dispensers at the store - Credit: Archant

It’s a three-step process - firstly, containers are weighed before being filled with as much or as little of each product as desired. Sarah and Belinda then weigh the filled containers, taking the container weight from the total weight. Most people bring their own containers with them but Sarah and Belinda don’t want to deter those visiting for the first time, or who may not have brought anything with them. To this end, containers can be purchased or, alternatively, recycled containers and paper bags are available for free.

Covid-19 has brought its challenges, particularly so soon after the shop had opened. Initially Skopa closed its doors to customers, instead offering a click and collect service.

READ MORE: The quest for a more enviornmentally-secure future in New Mills

Sarah Cumberland

Sarah Cumberland - Credit: Archant

‘Our click and collect service is helpful for those now cautious about shopping in the traditional way,’ explains Sarah.

‘It also helps those who have busy working lives as it offers convenience and speed. Families can find shopping locally in lots of little shops difficult, whereas click and collect is more doable. We always intended to have a website but not for another year or so; we’ve worked hard to get it set up in record time and hope it puts us in a stronger place for the future.’

Having since reopened, at the time of writing there is a limit of two customers in the shop at one time, hand sanitiser for anyone entering, a screen around the counter and paper bags for all dried items.

The store has a commitment to zero waste

The store has a commitment to zero waste - Credit: Archant

Sarah and Belinda are keen to source as much as they can sustainably. This includes using local suppliers where possible, including Cauldwells Mill in Rowsley for some of its flour, Scrub in Mansfield and Brookfoot Naturals in Darley Dale for its handmade soap products with an ethos on trying to use suppliers that are as local as possible but with affordability in mind.

Some suppliers also ensure there is no additional packaging waste with the delivery of products. Skopa sells Bakewell’s Brock and Morton rapeseed oil and infused oils, delivered in 20 litre barrels, the empty ones of which are returned and reused. It is also the case for their cleaning and product range provided by Miniml. ‘There’s no waste involved,’ says Sarah. ‘They’re buying into what we do and we want to support each other.’

Belinda describes their range of stock as a work in progress and their offering is built up with staple products influenced by foods she and Sarah eat and products they use. ‘We have more dispensers and more wall space we can use – the range will get bigger’, she says.

In the past few months they have seen an increase in demand for more home baking products, so have expanded their range of products to offer no fewer than eight different flour types. As well as introducing additional items – driven mostly by customer feedback and requests – they also grind coffee beans and have installed a new machine which makes both smooth and crunchy peanut butter.

Skopa is dedicated to the local community

Skopa is dedicated to the local community - Credit: Archant

Sarah and Belinda have both lived in Wirksworth for over 20 years and it was important to them that they opened the shop in their local community. ‘There’s already so much going on here, says Sarah. ‘We want to make the high street as busy and vibrant as possible – that’s very important to both of us.’

Skopa’s ethos is very much about working with other retailers rather than in competition. ‘We want to offer shoppers variety and options so that people can do all their shopping locally,’ says Sarah.

At present, Skopa is open six days a week (closed on Wednesday afternoons) and is also open late on Thursdays. From the outset Sarah and Belinda have involved the local community, keen to hear their thoughts and find out what they want. They have held open days where they talked with local shoppers, invited comments on social media, and actively engaged with other traders in the town.

Skopa has been so well received that customers have even offered to volunteer. Sarah and Belinda plan to tap into this additional resource to provide extras for the community. Volunteering won’t therefore involve staffing the shop but developing links locally with organisations such as Waltham House’s sheltered housing just down the road, where shopping can be delivered.

Rearranging the shelves

Rearranging the shelves - Credit: Archant

Creating the business and running Skopa is a busy job but when not chatting with customers, weighing food, or cleaning and replenishing containers, Sarah and Belinda still find time to relax. For Sarah, this is hill walking with her husband and golden labrador, whilst for Belinda it’s gardening, growing food and spending time with her family.

In less than a year the two friends have not only created a new business that offers a new style of ethical shopping but have adapted their business in these most challenging of times to meet the needs of its customers.

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