We are very excited at what having a new website means for Jurang and for you, our loyal customers. Jurang has taken many bold steps in business over the years, yet a new website is a development that has not been at the forefront until now. It will be a huge benefit to Jurang to be able to offer our products with easy browsing on mobile devices. The other reason we have recently focused on building a new website is that to some extent, Jurang is having a fresh start. The face and voice of Jurang for many years Corniel, the founder, has been in the process of leaving and his presence will be sorely missed. Corniel’s departure can only be described as an end to an era, yet also the commencing of a new exciting start to see what’s next for Jurang. We asked Corniel to write the first blog post, an offer he quickly accepted to say a huge thank you to all Jurang’s ongoing customers and suppliers.
...ten years ago in the autumn of 2009. I was driving to my local Parish Church with crates of Fairtrade chocolate, biscuits, coffee and tea in the back of my car. Soon I would be putting up some tables in the damp Church Hall, spread out the wares and attend the service. After the service, I would sell the Traidcraft goods to people that were keen for their weekly bar of chocolate or box of Earl Grey tea. I and my friend Bob had only started doing this a few months earlier and little did I know that only a few months later with the help of my other friend, Paul, I would incorporate Jurang Wholesale Limited at Companies House. Now almost ten years later, I am saying goodbye. Life is about stories. What follows is the story of Jurang Fair Trade - the start, the development and my involvement as founding director. Finally, this is about the future, about the story that is being written now.
Shortly after Bob had told me about Traidcraft and we signed up for their Church Trader scheme, we had realised that we needed a name. To me, Fairtrade was and is about hope; giving hope to producers who produce commodities such as coffee, tea, sugar and cocoa. Commodities we all enjoy, often daily. Yet despite their produce being so popular and in high demand, the producers are often exploited by importers and transnational corporations and through trade rules and deals. Fairtrade changes this by not only by guaranteeing a minimum price for a commodity – a price that allows the producer to have a decent, basic standard of living – but also by paying an additional, so-called 'social premium', which is invested in the local community and results in, for example, improved healthcare or education. This to me is why Fairtrade gives people hope.
However, calling it the 'Hope Shop' seemed a bit dull and so I ventured on to Google Translate and started exploring translations of hope in other languages. Out of all of them, 'Jurang' just stuck: it had a ring to it. Jurang means 'hope' in Indonesian. Two friends who were artists made us a wooden sign with the Fairtrade Logo on it and underneath it just said 'Jurang'. This became the backdrop to our weekly shop and of course, it led people to ask what it meant, which was a great conversations starter about Fairtrade. Today, 10 years later, this question is still being asked.
At this point my work for Jurang was on a voluntary basis, a church ministry with any profit being either donated to charity or invested in table clothes or other display aids. However, circumstances soon brought a change to this. Both me and my wife were students and we were expecting our first baby. In addition to student loans and grants, I worked part-time to make ends meet. It, therefore, came as a shock to find that I was being made redundant. It was at this point that my other friend, Paul, stepped in and came up with a business proposal. Like me, he believed in Fairtrade and liked what we were doing with Jurang. What if he was to invest some money, I started running Jurang on a commercial basis and we became joint owners? I didn't have to think long, or hard and after initially trading as sole traders, in January 2010 we submitted our limited company application to Companies House.
The first year of Jurang was one of pioneering and saw us try all sorts of things, with lots of different kinds of Fairtrade products. However, after a year we had to conclude that quite frankly it was failing. That didn't mean nothing had happened. We had successfully put Fairtrade on the map in Tameside, the Metropolitan Borough Council we were part of, by organising a mini Fairtrade conference wherewith the generous help of some Fairtrade legends, we managed to raise awareness. We also became involved with the Oromo Coffee Company project, supporting refugees by providing an online platform for them to sell their coffee.
However, despite these things, in terms of generating actual, solid business we were not growing, and we needed to re-think what we were going to do. Whereas some businesses find diversification is the answer, we did the opposite first and instead focussed on just a few core products (coffee, tea and sugar) and on building a good online presence. This proved to be key to a change in our situation and we saw a welcome growth over the next few years. Our attractive website was easy to use and once we had a good offering of coffee going, we almost naturally started to expand into coffee making equipment. This brought increased turnover and better margins than we could achieve by focusing on coffee only.
Due to my wife's work as a (trainee) Anglican priest, we moved the business across the UK several times. From the little town of Mossley in Lancashire where we started to Bristol and later back up North to the Cheshire countryside and the village of Wincle. We employed apprentices and part-time employees at various stages. However, in a challenging trading environment (first the 2010 recession and now Brexit), as a business, we found that we were steady-going rather than growing rapidly.
One of the reasons Jurang remained steady, even in difficult economic circumstances, is we managed to get a good amount of returning business. This understandably helped the business, but quite selfishly perhaps it was even better for me. Having run Jurang for 10 years at the time of writing this, I realised that it was never about doing business in itself. For me, this was first about hope, about using trade to do good and bring justice to trading relationships. However, beyond that it still was not doing business that I loved - I loved what business brought me in terms of relationships and even friendships with customers and suppliers alike.
And yet, there was something missing - or perhaps I should say: there was something else I had started to realise I needed to do. In 2019 I, therefore, concluded a process of several years of discernment and preparation and in July I was accepted by a Church of England selection panel to start training to become an Anglican priest. As I write this in late September 2019, I am only days away from officially starting.
So, what’s next for Jurang?
I have come to realise over the last few years that there have been two stories in my life. However, these two stories did not just interact or even intersect, they had become almost one. Those two stories were the story of Jurang as a business and the story of me, Corniel as an individual. Over time I had become the face of Jurang to such an extent, that it was hard to see us separately (in fact, one woman I dealt with regularly kept continually calling me Jurang and the business Corniel – that's the combined effect of two strange names that nobody can spell!).
These stories are now being disentangled which will benefit not only me but also Jurang as a business. Regardless of discovering my true vocation, I feel I have given what I can to Jurang and now is the time for someone else to take things further. Someone who brings a renewed sense of enthusiasm and energy and someone who has fresh ideas. But most importantly: someone with the same beliefs in what Fairtrade can do and someone who values relationships, with customers and suppliers alike. So, I am extremely pleased that Jurang's story will continue under the leadership of Pete. He is joined by new staff and are operating from new premises – meet the Jurang team here.
And so, this blog not only tells the story of Jurang, but it also allows me to say “thank you” to all of the people I have worked with over the last 10 years. “Thank you” for contributing to the success of Jurang as a business and “thank you” for what it has meant to me personally through our e-mails, our conversations and our meetings.
If you have been a regular customer at Jurang over the years, then it is likely that you will know Corniel personally. His ability to befriend hundreds of people to the point of even remembering personal details shows not only his love for people but also his fantastic character. We know that Corniel will be hugely missed here, yet we are in full support of what Corniel is moving on to do next. I’m sure you will join me in saying a big thank you to Corniel for all he has put into this business and join me in cheering Corniel on in his next endeavour.
Finally, we want to join Corniel in saying thank you to you, our customers, for continuing to support Jurang. We want to assure you that the high level of customer service will only be strengthened, and the efficient customer sales Jurang has supplied for so many years will most certainly continue. We are excited for what’s next for Jurang, and any developments that come will be to strengthen the core vision of the business which is to grow fair trade and promote ethical produce – and enjoy some premium coffee along the way!