Happy New Year!

It’s another New Year and a time for celebration. We hope you all enjoyed a little bit of a break over the Christmas holidays and you’re feeling refreshed.

For us, it was just as busy as ever, but as we reflect on another successful year, it’s certainly not been without lots of exciting changes – and challenges!

As ever, we would like to thank all our customers, colleagues, suppliers and community partners for all their support in 2023 – we very much look forward to seeing what 2024 has in store for you all!

Here’s a few highlights from us.

The big changeover!

Earlier this year we were very sad to see Richard and Karen Dance take a step back from the business after more than 30 years. But, we hear that they are very much enjoying the quieter life!

They are still frequent visitors to our Brockenhurst store and do a number of things to support the community. We’d again like to express our thanks and appreciation to Richard and Karen – and we wish them all the very best.

With Richard and Karen stepping back, our six shops became part of the Southern Co-op as they celebrated their 150th anniversary year.

Back then, 30 people attended a public meeting and unanimously agreed to pay one shilling to establish a local Co-operative. Back then, the Co-Operative Society was formed by dockyard workers to tackle exploitation and inequality, and 5 months later, the Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society’s first shop opened in Charles Street on 9 May 1873.

There was recently a special edition of the Portsmouth News, which included a pull-out section on Southern Co-op’s beginnings as part of its 150th birthday in May – you can read it here.

Want to join us? If you’re looking for a new role and you’re interested in becoming part of our Welcome store team you can read more here.

Support for Ukraine

In April, Welcome stores teamed up with New Forest for Ukraine to donate 300 disposable barbeques that were removed from our shelves two summers ago.

Disposable barbeques are a huge risk of causing wildfires. They are devastating for ground nesting birds and other animals, and the impact is felt for years. Plus, climate change also means hotter, drier periods are inevitable, and the risk of starting a deadly fire by taking a barbecue out into the woods increases.

While they were no good to us, New Forest for Ukraine said they could make use of them, and gave them to reservists on the front line in Poland and Ukraine who used them to heat their food for daily essential cooking.

You can read more about the donation here.

New Forest for Ukraine was set up to help the war efforts in Ukraine and has since filled 100 trucks with aid, including 3,000 trauma kits, 150 generators and over 10,000 bandages.

Here’s a photo of us handing over the final batch!

Solent Mind support – and thank you

We’ve been working in partnership with Solent Mind for a few years now and they do some incredible work providing mental health support across the region.  

Not only were we thrilled to announce our partnership with them for another year, in August we handed over a cheque for £3,699.71 to help fund some of their vital services.

What’s more, this year we rolled out a partnership with Solent Mind that gives all our colleagues access to mental wellness kits, so that staff can recognise symptoms of poor mental health and how they can access help if they need it.

Being well physically and mentally is so important and as you can imagine at this time of year, keeping well can feel like a tricky task sometimes.

If you need to talk to someone, you can head to the Solent Mind website to find out more about the services available in your community.

Thank you Solent Mind for everything you do, it’s a pleasure to partner with you.

Becoming Plastic-free!

As an eco-conscious business, we were absolutely thrilled that our Brockenhurst store was recognised with “Plastic Free Community” status back in June.

As an initiative of Greener Brockenhurst, the campaign started last year after the idea was put forward at a community meeting and taken forward as a way of encouraging villagers, community groups and businesses to change habits.

It is a great achievement for the village and illustrates that there is a want and a wish to do more to reduce the amount of plastic used given the right encouragement.

Bringing Christmas cheer to Brockenhurst!

While on the topic of Brockenhurst, we thought we’d share a few pics from the fantastically festive Brockenhurst Christmas Fun Evening, an annual tradition that took place this year on Friday 1st December on Brookley Road.

Welcome Stores has had a long association with the event which was jam-packed with local acts like the Brassed Toffs Band, Magic Jack the magician and the Friday Girls, as well as stalls selling a variety of treats on offer from local businesses, activites and fairground rides.

It was great fun watching everyone get into the Christmas spirit as our colleagues set up a stall outside our shop front in Brockenhurst and handed out free mulled wine and mince pies to residents and visitors who came to enjoy all the fun of the festive fayre – and we raised an amazing £200 for our chosen charity, Solent Mind, in the process.

We also teamed up with Plastic Free Brockenhurst to offer a few things for their raffle prize – another way we wanted to collaborate with such an important organisation following Brockenhurst’s plastic-free status!

We’re already looking forward to getting involved again next year – we hope to see you all there! 

Here are some of our favourite pictures from the day.

More shout-outs and thank yous

We must also give a special mention to our wonderful suppliers who create some fantastic products all made locally.

Wishing you all a very prosperous New Year – and watch this space for more exciting news coming your way in 2024!

Got some old batteries? Empty vape cartridges lying around? We’ll take them!

The Christmas presents have been unwrapped and if you’re already tired of tripping over all the new toys, don’t worry we feel you! But what happens when toys need new batteries and are you one of the many people throwing away some 600 million batteries every year?

Land down under

In the UK, we throw away enough batteries that laid end to end in a single line would go all the way from London to Sydney, Australia – and back again!

Most of them end up in landfill, but as they contain dangerous chemicals including lead, zinc, lithium and even mercury, these can find themselves entering the environment, polluting the soil and our water supply. Not only can this present hazards to humans, but it is a direct threat to our natural ecosystem and wildlife.

What’s the alternative?

The thing is, when they are used in so many devices and are probably present in every room in the house, what are the alternatives?

If, like most people, you dispose of your single-use batteries in the household rubbish – STOP. You can bring them in to our recycling stations inside our Welcome stores and we will dispose of them safely.

Plus, this year, we’ve also introduced vape recycling centres to our till points – so you can bring those into us as well.

Vape cartridges are just as hazardous as batteries if they are not disposed of correctly.

With the rise in the use of vapes as an alternative to smoking, it is thought around 5 million disposable vapes are thrown away each week once their few-hundred puffs have expired.

Non-profit organisation Material Focus, calculated that around 30 million vapes are purchased each month in the UK which all contain copper wires and lithium batteries, which when disposed of, contain enough lithium to provide batteries for 5,000 electric cars each year.

We “welcome” your disposeables!

As a retailer that is constantly striving to improve its carbon footprint, vape and battery recycling points are right at home in our stores.

It is really important that we all do our bit to protect the environment and help reduce some of the 5 million disposable vales and 600 million batteries going into landfill.

Here’s a picture of what our recycling stations look like and if you don’t find them in your local Welcome store, please do ask a colleague who will happily point you in the right direction – and let’s get the new year off to a cleaner, greener start!

This World Mental Health Day, we’re taking stock

It’s World Mental Health Day and we’re taking the time to stop and think about how we can do our bit.

Welcome Stores has been partnered up with Solent Mind for a couple of years now, successfully raising just over £3,500.

But our support goes beyond financial

Last summer a group of managers from Welcome stores headed to Mayfield Nurseries – a facility owned by Solent Mind to offer new skills to those living with mental and physical health issues. Despite the sore backs, we had a great time – you can see some of the photos we took from the day here.

At its grass roots, we know that good mental health is important to living life to its fullest – at home and at work. It’s one of many reasons Welcome Stores chose to partner with Solent Mind in the first place. It was a timely pairing, especially as we endured long lockdowns of the pandemic and time separated from loved ones took its toll.

We must of course thank all of those on the front line who continued to keep this country moving – including our own staff who worked tirelessly to ensure everyone in the community was well-looked after, no matter how old they were or how vulnerable they were.

As such, we were pleased to hear that for World Mental Health Day this year, Solent Mind will begin a campaign to attempt to close the gap on mental health inequalities.

Many people from varied backgrounds and for varied reasons face barriers when it comes to accessing mental health support. Whether it be as simple as geography, lack of access to technology, language barriers, gender-based stigma, and many more.

Starting today and in the weeks to follow, Solent Mind will be pushing out various messaging on its website and social media channels – so please do keep an eye out for that.

Sam Clarke, Communications and Marketing Lead, said: “Over the coming weeks, we will be highlighting some of the issues that are preventing people from accessing our services, and mental health services as a whole. By starting this conversation, we hope to raise awareness and start learning how to close the gap in these mental health inequalities.” For more information about Solent Mind, head to their website www.solentmind.org.uk

Supplier Spotlight: Vibrant Forest

This week, we’re hearing from a great local supplier, Vibrant Forest, which started life in a garage – and today has grown into a brand that is well-known across the South Coast.

Hopping out

The business began back in 2011 when the first brew, Summerlands IPA was created – and Vibrant Forest was born!

Its mission was to brew modern beers that were packed with flavour and at the time, the business operated from a garage and slowly grew into a thriving taproom.

(Very!) Vibrant Forest – and vegan too

You cannot miss Vibrant Forest ranges on the shelves of Welcome Stores as you will notice they are perhaps some of the brightest coloured of all.

“We are what it says on the tin” says taproom manager Ryan Dack. “Our vibrancy is what makes us stand out from the crowd and we are not afraid to push boundaries to give our customers different styles and flavours. And, with our brewery being located in the heart of the New Forest, what better way to honour such surroundings and colours the Forest brings with it – hence the name, Vibrant Forest.”

What’s more, Vibrant Forest beers are never filtered or pasteurised and there is never any lactose added to the brews. That means every beer is Vegan. 

A Welcome addition

Showcasing local businesses is something we love to do here at Welcome Stores. We have some seriously rich pickings right here on our doorstep, so why wouldn’t we want to bring those to our customers, so that they can enjoy them too? Plus, we see the benefit of supporting our local economy which in turn is vital for bringing jobs and growth to our communities. 

“We love getting our beers in front of new audiences who may be unaware of us – and Welcome Stores are a great support in helping us do that” Ryan added.

Navigating change

Vibrant Forest is proud of its beginnings and took its time to grow organically into the small team and taproom it is today. But it’s that humble beginning that gives the company strong innings and potentially makes it more resilient too.

“We are always exploring new flavours and styles, and we are proud to be a Brewery rather than a beer factory.”

What can Vibrant Forest first-timers expect?

If you’re just dipping your toe into the water (or ale!) of Vibrant Forest, PUPA is the company’s best-selling pale ale and is always a great starting point for anyone. It’s fruity and refreshing with a touch of bitterness.

For more seasoned Vibrant Forest-ers, Ryan recommends FLUIDITY for something a little bit different. “It’s a 3.8% sour beer, but it is so refreshing and something different for most people as the brew has been soured during the brewing process which gives it a unique flavour.” For more information head to www.vibrantforest.co.uk

Welcome stores donates £3,699 to Solent Mind

It was our pleasure to visit the team at Solent Mind HQ and hand over a cheque for £3,699 to help fund the vital services that they do.

Solent Mind is our chosen charity for 2023.

We’ve actually been working with them for a few years now and they were nominated by our staff for dedication to mental health and wellbeing services for people across the south.

Poor mental health can have a much bigger impact than simply “feeling low” for a few days. It can impact our behaviour and our relationships. It can affect how we do our jobs and live our lives at home.

During the pandemic, looking after our health and wellbeing became paramount.

When Covid-19 hit, we were all worried about protecting our families and loved ones. But, there was an army of people who continued to fight and keep the country going. They were the ones who could not lock themselves away, or work from home. They were the ones who selflessly continued to serve our communities, despite the risks.

They were our amazing NHS, doctors and nurses, and social workers and they deserve all of our admiration and recognition. But there were others, like Welcome stores retail workers, who adopted that British “Keep Calm and Carry On” spirit. The great thing about our stores is that they also provided a place of familiarity at a time when many people were isolated – and that did keep us going when times were really tough.

And we’re only human.

Naturally, the worry of the unknowns in the world and doing our best to continue operating our stores and serving our customers safely took its toll – not just on our staff. We heard concerns from our customers too who were vulnerable or worried about doing their best for their family.

That’s when it became clear organisations like Solent Mind are vital for our communities, and it is our pleasure to do what we can to support them – and give something back.

Sadly, there is just not enough funding for NHS mental health services.

That is why organisations like Solent Mind are so heavily relied upon. They make sure that everyone gets access to the time and resources they need to help them get their lives back on track.

They also offer our staff access to services through our partnership, accessing guides such as dealing with mental health in the workplace, anxiety and many others, to ensure they are always feeling supported and doing the best job they can.

Jo Silsbury, Corporate Liaison Officer at Solent Mind said:

“Our corporate partnerships are so important as a way of generating all-important funding and we’re grateful to be working with Welcome Stores. Plus, it’s another way of collaborating with others to ensure we are offering the best services possible, but also spread the word about what we do – and how we can help.

“Our services were accessed by almost 55,000 people in 2021-2022 and more than 6,000 people received wellbeing services from our support centres, which are vital to our network. This latest donation from Welcome stores helps with our message to spread awareness that mental health matters, and everyone deserves to feel their best.”

Supplier Spotlight: Powder Monkey Brewery

If you’ve sampled our very own Welcome brew – the “Co-Hop Welcome Back” hazy pale ale, then the chances are you’ve come across our latest Supplier Spotlight already!

Set up in the wake of the pandemic on May 17th 2021, Powder Monkey Brewery has quickly “hopped” up the favourites list among our local customers – and we can see why.

Hear about all things craft, collaboration and – pigs! – from our chat with the gang. Cheers!

All in the name

We had to ask, where did the name Powder Monkey come from? It turns out, the Brewery’s co-founder, Andy Burdon, discovered the building where the brewery now operates back in 2019. Previously it was an historic naval gunpowder store in Priddy’s Hard, Gosport.

Despite the store being dark, derelict and empty for more than 50 years, Andy’s vision was bright and he wanted to create a brand that kept the building’s history alive. The name Powder Monkey was born – a name that relates to the boys who would have carried gunpowder to the guns on board ships.

Brewing success

Andy then recruited Mark Hamblin as Head Brewer, and together, they spent many hours developing the working side of the brewery and its equipment, until its first beers were brewed in 2021.

Since opening the brewery, Powder Monkey has doubled its capacity thanks to investment in more tanks for its craft beers. Today, it works as a production facility, but visitors can also make use of the new visitor’s centre, shop and tasting bar.

What was their secret to early success? Marcus Hunt from the sales team said: “The brewing world is quite collaborative, which means we can work together and share ideas through a mutual passion to make the best beers people can buy.”

Far from all at sea

It is this working together attitude that Powder Monkey also sees as ways of navigating (if you’ll pardon the nautical pun!) any rough waters (sorry!).

Marcus continues: “Of course there are challenges, like there are in any business. But, the great thing about collaborating is that you can identify problems as they come along and tackle them head-on. Usually someone else out there has dealt with a similar situation – or they warn you that something might become an issue.

“We learn as we grow, take advice from others, adapt and overcome!”

Nautical themes

The name itself is a great way of keeping the brewery’s building alive – but so too are the goods within.

“We’ve recently launched a new Pilsner called Bravo Zulu” Marcus said. “It’s an old naval term someone would say, which means ‘well done’.

“There’s also the Drunken Sailor and, our best-selling beer, Drop Anchor. That’s a great one for someone who’s just getting into craft beer and taking their first sips!”

A Welcome addition

Welcome stores sell plenty of local products to our customers so that they can sample the delights of what’s on offer right on their local doorstep. We also understand that by supporting local businesses, it brings growth to the economy and supports jobs.

Not only do we see the economic benefits of supporting local, Welcome stores see it as “doing our bit” towards reducing our carbon footprint too!

“It’s great to see Welcome stores onboard with supporting local suppliers” Marcus added. “There’s always a friendly face when we deliver and it’s great how Welcome supports not just us but so many great, local suppliers!”

Welcome stores in turn like how committed Powder Monkey is to the local community – something that is well-aligned with ourselves.

“We love being out and about in the community at different events, meeting people who may not have heard of us or tried our beers, telling our story and sharing our passion for craft beer!” Marcus added.

And, just as aligned with Welcome stores’ commitment to reducing food waste, nothing is wasted when it comes to the brewing process – as the spent grain is picked up by a local farmer who feeds it to his pigs!

So what’s next for Powder Monkey?

“Apart from the Drunken Sailor, which contains lactose,  all our beers that we make are Vegan friendly” says Marcus. “However, we’d really like to expand our Gluten-free range and there are a couple of beers being trialled soon – so watch this space!”

Check out the range of craft beers on offer from Powder Monkey brewery at your local Welcome store.

For more information, head to powdermonkeybrewing.com