In April 2021 our President Emily Kirkby sat down with the founders of Scoop, Davide Bertone and Nina Stevens to find out more about the Durham initiative. Launched in October 2020, Scoop sells non-perishable food goods to the local community, without the use of any plastic. As the environmental, social and political implications of food waste become more visible in our society, Scoop aims to enact social change and demonstrate the power of student activism. Setting a unique precedent, Scoop is an example to us all to acknowledge our individual responsibility to incorporate sustainability into our consumer habits.
Emily Kirkby: Shall we begin with you explaining the concept of Scoop and your initial goals for the initiative?
Nina Stevens: Scoop Durham is a zero waste store which sells food by the weight and plastic free in Durham City Centre and I would say its central ethos is based on two foundational principles: firstly to make zero-waste living more accessible, beginning with the student population in attempt to encourage long-term behavioural habits which are centred around sustainable living. Secondly is our price matching guarantee. Davide and I identified a perception that ‘sustainable’ shops are expensive and we want to show that the green movement can be both affordable and accessible. We are also non for profit so we re-invest the money back into the initiative with hopes of expansion and the rest of our proceeds go to charities chosen by us.
Davide Bertone: In terms of our goals for the future, we want to keep expanding our range of products available in the Durham store and increasing footfall of new customers, who understand our brand. We want Scoop to maintain its roots within the student community. On a national level, we have a model which works. We began with Scoop in Cambridge in 2019 and now there are 4 stores, with one in the US at Duke University. It’s really inspiring to see this growth and I think the beauty of Scoop is that it is constructed intentionally to reflect the personality of the locality in which it exists.
NS: A lot of what we do is to empower the consumer, meaning you vote through where you put your money.
EK: What do you think encouraged you to first start thinking about sustainability?
DB: Firstly, it’s probably the classic story of watching a documentary about environmental justice. I think also my degree, which is political studies, taught me more about the climate movement in terms of its intersectionality. There are a lot of problematic aspects which need to be changed but as a movement it is inherently actionable, everyone has an individual responsibility. Decision and action are key parts of promoting sustainability.
NS: I think sustainability has become a buzzword that is often misconstrued as just referring to climate change and veganism. But actually there are so many different ways to integrate environmentally friendly habits into daily life. I’ve been vegetarian for six or seven years which started from an ethical standpoint and I guess from this I started looking at other parts of my life I could improve by making conscious choices.
EK: How have you guys found launching Scoop during the global pandemic?
NS: In some ways we have been very lucky. When the pandemic started in March in the UK, we had only just received our funding from the university and didn’t really have a set business model which gave us time to prepare properly for the launch in October. Of course there has been a downside. As Davide mentioned we have plans for expansion but the pandemic has meant the political arm of the initiative with planned events etc has been limited due to social distancing restrictions. I would say overall though that we have been really lucky.
DB: In March we had the resources but not the team. We acquired a team of twelve over the course of the month and worked remotely for six months which I think is testament to the desire of Durham students to positively contribute to the community. As we were all in lockdown I think lots of students reflected on how they could reconnect to the city through virtual means and Scoop was able to offer this. Our social media had amazing growth during the first months of the pandemic which was because people were essentially stuck at home in quite bleak times and were maybe looking for something positive to engage with.
When we finally launched both Nina’s and my house were put into self-isolation so we actually missed it. What that showed us though, was the importance of our volunteers, of which we now have 65 to mitigate the disruptions caused by living in a pandemic. There are definitely positive and negative sides but mostly Covid-19 encouraged us to look to the wider community for support.
EK: Obviously you guys mentioned you work alongside a lot of local charities, from the conversations you have had with them do you think your success in the pandemic is surprising?
NS: So we work alongside three different charities. There is Dash which tackles local homelessness, FareShare which donates surplus food to local communities in the North-East and then RSAAC which offers support to women who are victims of sexual abuse and rape. All of them have said that the need for their services has increased during Covid which reinforces the importance of these charities locally and highlights how Scoop can support them. I don’t want to speak for them but I think the logical assumption from the increased need of their services is that Scoop can positively contribute during a pandemic too.
EK: Could you elaborate on the use of technology and social media in establishing and growing Scoop?
DB: I think social media is mainly how Scoop was able to grow. Our events have reached 11,000 people online which would never have been achieved through leafleting on the streets for example. Because of the pandemic people have more time to engage with online content and we want to unite people through establishing a virtual community in a time where building a physical one is much harder.
NS: Building a strong social media platform has been an integral part of our messaging and marketing of our brand. Social justice movements in particular are massively influenced by the power of social media which is obviously hugely beneficial for Scoop.
DB: I really think for any small business/ start up, you really are only an idea until you have a social media account. It establishes a marketing model so well and there is such a strong intersection between digital engagement and in-store visits.
EK: Yes I completely agree. Going onto the notion of creative solutions for big problems, can you explain your own understanding of this?
NS: Personally for me, being creative can take lots of different forms. I think too often its perceived as pertaining only to the arts, in the sense that if you are not musical, artistic and so on, you are not creative. I don’t think this is true at all. Look at mathematicians, when they approach problems and have to think outside of the box - that’s creativity.
We would like to thank Scoop for taking the time to speak with us.