“Somehow we need to make buying local produce convenient and cost effective” – George Freeman MP’s lessons from buy local challenge

As a concept 'buy local' may sound simple enough, but after a week trying to put theory into practice one Norfolk MP has said more needs to be done to make it more practical for families who are tight on time and money.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman took up the consumers' challenge set by social enterprise company Buy Local Norfolk while in his village of Feltwell and on holiday on the north Norfolk coast.

He said the benefits were clear – better quality meat from his local butcher, increased social interaction within the community, more support for local entrepreneurs.

The only thing Mr Freeman could not source locally was lettering for the back of a dingy, but after sending a tweet a follower highlighted a nearby shop where he could buy it.

Mr Freeman said: 'People often decry the internet for undermining local high street shops and there's no doubt that some areas of retail have seen a big shift online.

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'But in terms of local producers, stall holders and new businesses, it was striking how powerful a tool online community networks can be for promoting resources that might otherwise remain invisible.'

The MP highlighted barriers that can put people off buying locally, such as the quality of fruit and veg in small convenience stores without the turnover to keep their stock fresh, and the time it took him to seek out local alternatives to supermarkets or buying online.

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He said: 'It was striking that in some areas the quality and price of local produce was geared more to visiting holiday makers and the growing number of 'gastro-tourists'. Often it would not be realistic for local families on a working wage as the basis for weekly family shopping through the year.

'Somehow we need to make buying local produce convenient and cost effective for more and more people week in, week out. Farmers' markets and town centre markets can play a big part in this.'

Martin Laws, a director of Buy Local Norfolk, said buying locally keeps money in the local economy, enables companies to expand and allows communities to take back control and decision making, and agreed that a cost-conscious and consumer-friendly solution needed to be found.

He said: 'If shop keepers are not delivering the products their customers want or asking them what they want, that would be a good starting point. Any business owner should have a flexible approach. If your products are not working you would be mad not to adapt in some way and try again.'

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