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East Durham Business magazine feature: Discovering Durham and all it has to offer

Apr 12, 2022 | Business

Over the past few years our nation has become much more aware of where we source our food, drink, and other goods from. If we can buy from local producers, we do and that can only be a good thing for organisations like Discovering Durham, which has been set up to champion the very best of what our area has to offer.

EDB Editor Leanne Fawcett popped along to the Aladdin’s cave that is the Discovering Durham shop to find out more about the producers whose goods are stocked there and speak to Liza Johnson, who is part of a CIC leading the drive to get us all shopping in our own back yard…

As a nation we’re more aware than ever of where our goods come from.

Whether it’s the cheese in our fridge, the sauces in our cupboard, the gin we drink to relax after a tough day at work or the paintings which adorn our walls, we are more and more often making a conscious decision to buy local.

Of course, there’s no denying you’ll often pay more for goods made by smaller independent producers than you will at the supermarket, but there’s something rewarding about spending money with businesses on our doorsteps.

So, what it is about buying local that is making us prepared to spend that little bit more?

Liza Johnson, part of the team behind Discovering Durham, and whose personality and appearance is equally as colourful as some of the arts and crafts that can be found in the Durham city centre shop, believes there are two main reasons we like to shop local.

“Firstly, people know locally, rather than mass produced goods, are usually better.

“With food and drink, items that are made closer to the point of sale tend to be fresher, and also because they’re not made in bulk there’s more love and attention goes into them. Our cheeses for instance, made by Weardale Cheese, are so popular – our customers want the unique flavour that comes from their varieties and would rather pay a bit more than heading to their local supermarket and buy something ‘off the shelf’ so to speak.

“When it comes to the arts and crafts we stock, they’re individual and won’t be found in homes up and down the country which of course is the danger with high street alternatives. They make for lovely bespoke gifts with a real personal touch or can bring individual detail to the home which you just can’t get with products that are made in bulk, often for multiple retailers.

“The other main reason I think shoppers are choosing to buy local is that they know they’re supporting small businesses, and that brings a huge benefit to the local economy – the money stays in the County Durham area and gives these producers a route to market.

“There’s something so much more satisfying buying local and that’s backed up by the fact our shop is busier than ever.”

Discovering Durham, which is in the heart of the Prince Bishop’s Place shopping centre in Durham city centre, stocks goods made by dozens of producers from across County Durham. And while many suppliers are small outfits located in and around County Durham, there are some that are making waves in the international marketplace.

One such producer is Screaming Chimp.

‘All Aboard the Chimp Train to Heatsville’ says the Screaming Chimp website.

And that is a fair description of what you can expect from the sauces – these certainly aren’t for the faint hearted – I speak from personal experience here, having purchased a couple of them when I visited the Discovering Durham shop.

Launched after a sauce was created for a ‘Man v Food’ university challenge, the brand has since gone on to win several awards and now supplies stockists in countries including Australia and the United States.

That’s fantastic for a product whose journey started right here in County Durham.

Liza herself is no stranger to the world of production, heading up the hugely successful business The Tea Enthusiasts, which is now onto its third generation of family links.

As the name suggests, The Tea Enthusiasts love tea.

The company’s mission is to ‘bring loose leaf tea and all its flavours to as many people as possible and have fun doing it’.

The company makes teas that will take you on a journey around the world, with flavours including Northumbrian Wildflower, Earl Grey Rooibos, Japanese Hojicha Roasted Bancha, Lemon Drizzle Cake, and Orange Hibiscus Refresher to name just a few.

In fact, The Tea Enthusiasts produces over 100 different varieties of loose-leaf tea, with a selection found on the shelves of Discovering Durham.

Liza, who runs the shop with co-directors Matthew and Dawn, with a team of support staff and volunteers, added: “I live and breathe this organisation because I’m a local producer myself. I know how hard it is to get your product to market and how important it is to have platforms like our shop where people can buy your products.

“Seeing people come through our doors – tourists as well as people from the area who are often returning customers – is so rewarding, even more so when they leave with goods that are made right here in County Durham.

“I would say to anyone who hasn’t been to our shop to come and visit us – there are so many wonderful items to be had, many of which you won’t find anywhere else.

“You can also leave with the knowledge that with each product you buy, you’re giving the producer of it a foot up into the wider marketplace and supporting our area’s economy and future prosperity.”