Buzzing to tell!
Tuesday 26 January 2021
Alison's Bee Class was created in January 2015 and is an educational business delivering a self-written programme entitled “Awareness of Bees and their Importance in the Environment”.
My name is Alison and whilst my Bee Class programme was originally directed towards educating primary school children in Shropshire, following the national curriculum for Science, it soon became apparent whilst attending community events that there was also a need to expand the business to include training adults to become beekeepers as well as informing numerous community groups about the importance of bees, so I began to offer Guest Speaker work.
Since walking into that first classroom in 2015, I've engaged with circa 8,000 people of all ages and inspired many to either become beekeepers or commence bee-inspired projects within their place of work/learning or home.
In 2018 I won the Businesses for Children Award 'Best Educational Business for Children'
Bees, bees everywhere!!
Whilst I keep a couple of beehives at home in south Telford in order to pollinate my own and neighbouring gardens, I mainly keep my hives in out-apiaries including the National Trust Dudmaston Hall (Bridgnorth); Craemer UK Ltd (Hortonwood) as well as at Telford & Wrekin's Solar Farm (Wheat Leasowes).
Having close links with the Telford Town Park Visitor Centre (used for training) as well as the Rangers/Friends of the Park team, I helped towards the Park obtaining an important national award given by DEFRA Bees' Needs 2019 which was presented to us at the Wax Chandlers Hall, London.
Helping the park to install their first hive in 2019, we continued to mentor throughout the season. In March 2020, knowing the country was about to go into it's first nationwide lockdown, we offered to take over the care of their colony. This included splitting into two, during the summer as part of good management. Our activities were captured on video to share via social media. This relationship is still on-going.
Sustainable Hive Products – more to bees than honey!
Having 20 colonies of bees, part of good hive management means that I have a large volume of pure beeswax that is harvested each season.
Frustrated by the amount of plastic cling film/single use snack bags I used at home for various applications, I'd read an article about reusable beeswax food wraps which were very popular in Australia and New Zealand. This lead me to research and develop my own version of the product. I tried many processes but decided to keep things as simple as possible, so only use 100% cotton fabric and pure beeswax. After trialling them myself and with friends, I perfected the product and started marketing in April 2018.
Being naturally anti-bacterial, the beeswax creates a sealed layer on both sides of the cotton fabric and can be used to wrap or cover numerous food items such as wrapping up a sandwich, cheese, cake, fruit, vegetables etc or placing over a bowl, securing by twisting the wrap around the edge. Whilst they are not as 'clingy' as cling film, they are plastic free and can be reused again and again. If cared for correctly, they should last up to 18 months. They are sustainable too as once spent they can be composted as they're 100% biodegradable.
Almost 3 years later this business diversification has manufactured and sold 1,000's of individual wraps at face to face events, via an on-line business as well as through 10+ independent retailers around Shropshire. It even helps support a local sub-post office from the on-line sales!
Initially I marketed the wraps on-line via a Facebook page as well as at community events such as village shows, environmental events as well as Guest Speaker work. At first, the audience were not aware of the product in terms of positive environmental impact, cost savings and durability, therefore I soon discovered that offering a demonstration of how the wraps worked, the interest escalated and sales increased. User benefits include:
Cost savings - for the average family of 2 adults and 3 children taking a packed lunch to work/school 45 weeks per year currently using plastic clingfilm/single use snack bags as wrapping, they would currently be using approximately 600m of clingfilm! This does not take into account clingfilm used in other kitchen activities throughout the year.
Environmental impact - clingfilm is made from low-density polyethylene which does not biodegrade and studies show, can be harmful to our health. Recent studies are also now showing the amount of harmful plastics making it into the food chain and oceans is alarming. So any change to reducing single use plastic and replacing with reusable/biodegradable products is a win-win not only for the pocket, but for the planet.
I have observed buying behaviour has changed from single-use wrapping to reusable options and in particular my customers love my unique patterns to 'pimp up' their fridge or lunch!
In terms of measurability of the success of my product, of course time will tell, but comparing sales figures month by month, there is a definite trend towards using reusable wraps.
Initially the main challenge I faced when launching the reusable wraps was public awareness. At Guest Speaker jobs, I had a 'captive' audience at which I could demonstrate the benefits. But at community events many people would simply walk by. As one of my USP's is to offer a huge array of patterns to satisfy all tastes (ladies, gents, children, plain, funky and, at times, bizarre!) then people would 'browse', in wonder before making a purchase. On-line (via Facebook page) I include short videos and photographs to help explain usage opportunities. Customers like the fact that the wraps are made using our own beeswax.
I believe my entire project goes above and beyond standard sustainability practice, from educating primary aged children about the awareness of bees and their importance in the environment through to adults in the various information activities I perform.
My product diversification is also making good use of a hive product into a totally sustainable item following zero waste practices, where possible in the manufacturing process. All scrappage is composted at home, heat required to melt wax sourced from wood burner, when lit, wax from spent combs is rendered down in a solar extractor - homemade box using recycled materials which uses the power from the sun to heat/melt down the beeswax from old beehive frames.
I have also forged relationships with many, local independent businesses who stock my beeswax wraps in their shops. Those include Battlefield1403, Ludlow Farm Shop, Hawkstone Park, Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, Apley Farm Shop, Greenfields, The Fields Kitchen, Antiques & Arts Ironbridge, Churncote Farm Shop, Box of Goodness Newport. In addition to these larger businesses, I also supply some of the new Zero-Waste Sustainable living businesses too.
In 2019 we won the best 'Environmental Product Award' from BESST Sustainable Business in Telford.
Life after Covid-19
With honeybees being classified as 'livestock' we have always been able to visit and manage our colonies throughout the three lockdowns. This also included the beehives kept at Telford Town Park.
Whilst our educational, training and event work is currently on-hold, we're very much hoping that one day in the not too distant future this is possible again as we truly believe that making people of all ages aware about the importance of bees and other pollinating insects is paramount to the survival of the planet as well as encouraging sustainability.
In the meantime, the bees will still buzz, the flowers will get pollinated and nature will continue to survive. We just need to be kinder to our planet & all the wonderful flora & fauna around us.