Spotlight on Single Step Co-op
In the coming weeks, Visit Lancaster is shining the spotlight on some of the brilliant independent businesses in our local Lancashire region.
This time, it’s Single Step! Single Step is a radical vegetarian workers’ co-operative in Lancaster.
Established in 1976, Single Step was at the forefront of the zero-waste, vegetarian revolution long before the supermarkets jumped on the green bandwagon, and have remained proudly independent since.
We spoke with co-op member Chris and here’s what he has to share.
How would you describe Single Step in a line or two?
Single Step is a vegan wholefood shop owned and run by its workers. We focus on low impact, low waste foods with an emphasis on local, seasonal, produce.
What was the inspiration behind starting Single Step?
The name ‘Single Step’ was inspired by a proverb attributed to the Chinese philosopher Laozi: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The idea was that people could begin to change the world by changing what they put in their shopping baskets. We’re all big believers in being the change we want to see. This is why we’ve always sold our fruit, veg, herbs, spices, grains, mueslis, dried fruits etc. loose so that people can buy as much or as little as they want without having to pay for plastic packaging so that we can all reduce waste and help the environment. The zero-waste, plant-based lifestyle has finally gone mainstream – but Single Step has been promoting it for over forty years! Our ethics are not just about the products we sell, but the way we run our business and how we choose which brands to stock and which other companies we deal with. As a workers’ co-op, we all take an equal role in running the business. We all work the same hours, and we all receive the same pay. Workers’ rights are important to us, so wherever possible we try to support other workers’ co-ops – primarily our two main wholesalers: Organic North in Manchester and Suma Wholefoods in Halifax.
What was Single Step like in the early days?
I’m the longest-serving co-op member (thirteen years) but even I can’t answer that one. Single Step started in 1976 – ten years before I was born! We first opened as a radical bookshop on King Street, and then moved to our current premises on Penny Street in 1977. Initially, the wholefood shop, book shop, and café upstairs were all part of the same organisation. The shop and the café eventually became separate businesses, although we remain closely connected – for many of our customers, a weekly shop at Single Step is incomplete without a coffee at the Whale Tail Vegetarian Café afterwards.
How has Single Step evolved over the years?
We’ve moved with the times where necessary – we’ve recently invested in a new set of zero waste scales so that people can bring in containers from home and shop plastic-free; we have an online store for click-and-collect and local deliveries via eCargo bike, but our principles have very much remained the same since we opened in 1976. We’re still committed to animal rights and workers’ rights. Single Step was a fully vegetarian shop from the off, but as of 2020, we became 100% vegan.
Now that the supermarkets have jumped on the plant-based bandwagon, it’s important to remember that these huge corporations don’t have the planet’s best interest at heart, so we’ve made an extra effort to spotlight and support other local, ethical, and independent businesses. We sell Fairtrade, handmade, bean to bar chocolate from The Fig Tree in Garstang, vegan beer brewed at Lancaster Brewery, organic seasonal greens from Growing With Grace in Clapham and recycled products made from locally collected plastic by the pioneering folks at Relic to name just a few! Many of our products are certified organic and Fairtrade, and nothing we sell is tested on animals.
What are you excited about in the months and years ahead?
Hopefully an end to the restrictions! We’ve been incredibly fortunate in that – being an essential food shop – we’ve been able to stay open throughout the pandemic, although we’ve had to limit the number of people we allow into the shop and change the way we do certain things. It hasn’t been easy, and we’re incredibly grateful to our regular customers for supporting us throughout this crisis as we juggled making the shop as safe as possible with setting up online ordering and delivery systems for those who were shielding. We’ve teamed up with a local chap called Jack Lennox to offer home delivery to the Lancaster area. We’re really excited to expand our online range and offer regular veg box deliveries etc – watch this space!
Obviously, we’ve been affected by Covid by not having passing trade from the café upstairs and many of our customers (quite rightly) staying at home, but we’re one of the lucky independent businesses who are still standing. We’re aware that there’s been a huge shift in terms of people’s shopping habits: more and more people are buying from big companies online. On the other side of this thing, we need to be supporting our local businesses more than ever. There’s a lot of talk about ‘getting back to normal’ once the pandemic is over. We don’t want to go back to normal! There’s an environmental crisis and we’re spiralling into disaster. We need to drastically change the way we live and the way we shop, and a journey of a thousand miles begins with a Single Step.
When the lockdown is over and you can once again return to our beloved high streets, please remember to support and shop local.
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