22 March 2014

There's a price to pay, for free coffee!

As a coffee shop social entrepreneur, I realise the value of the freebie giveaway, as much as anyone, be they consumer or business owner. I've used the lure of a plain and simple free coffee promotion to introduce new customers to our business, to make sure they know of our existence, to let them experience the taste, atmosphere and service first hand. I used part of my marketing budget to pay for the free coffees that we gave out to promote ourselves and found it a very successful campaign. The free coffee is a great way to welcome new faces into your business. However the Waitrose scheme of giving out free coffee is finally resulting in a backlash and comments. I've held my tongue for a longtime about the free coffee offer from Waitrose, for fear of promoting it, however now that it has hit the national headlines, I'm confident that the comments I have to make can only do some good for communities across the UK.

A business based on giving away free coffee for months and months on end, devalues the product and is not sustainable. Waitrose get the money from somewhere to pay for that free coffee and sorry to say, if you shop there it's from you and if you work there, it's from your payout!

I have made the conscious decision not to shop at Waitrose or John Lewis anymore, I prefer to support local independent businesses any way, as they are the backbone of our economy but I have in the past shopped in Waitrose because I believed it was a business with high values and high ethics Every member of staff in Waitrose is a partner, each one of them is responsible for the decision to give out free coffees.

I suggest:
1/ If you work in Waitrose, campaign to change the benefits that are offered to customers.

2/If you love your local coffee shop, go there for coffee and DON'T shop at Waitrose!

3/ If you are an independent coffee shop owner, support your local shops and do not shop in Waitrose. Tell your staff, your friends and family to boycott Waitrose.

4/If you are the Mum, Dad, family, friend of an independent coffee shop owner, boycott Waitrose.

5/ If you work in an independent coffee shop, please don't shop in Waitrose or John Lewis, their free coffee shenanigans, might mean you don't have job!

Waitrose present themselves as an ethical company that support the community, you can see for yourself that they are destroying the infrastructure of the community.

If you care about consumer choice and variety, if you care about ethics, then please boycott Waitrose and John Lewis and any other associated business.

Whilst you have money to spend, you still have a choice, hit Waitrose where it hurts, their profits.

They say they give free coffee as a reward, only to shoppers who do a majority of their grocery shopping with them, this is a lie, get a MyWaitrose Card and claim your free coffee everyday, without spending a single penny.

In fact, I would encourage you to go to Waitrose every day, for your free coffee, don't buy anything. Drink the coffee, or pour it away, especially if it tastes nasty, then go to your local independent coffee shop, and get them to fill your cup with their almost certainly better tasting coffee, made with experience, love and care and breathe in the smell of feeling good, breathe in the delight of being able to say NO to Waitrose and having the choice and power as a consumer to make your views known about unethical business practices.

The power of the pound in your pocket is a wonderful thing!
And nothing can replace a great tasting cup of coffee.

I hope you will support me in my Mindful Shopper campaign and use your free cuppa to help your local independent coffee shop to thrive!

There's a price to pay for coffee and if Mark Price the head of Waitrose prefers to ignore that, then he will ultimately pay the price!

I wonder what John Lewis, the founder of Waitrose, who came from Shepton Mallet, where I now have my second shop, would think about all this.

18 March 2014

Why I resigned from being on Shepton Mallet Town Council...

I have resigned from my position as an elected member of Shepton Mallet Town Council...because integrity is important to me.

I am PERSON, not a politician, which means I'll enjoy helping you and Shepton Mallet without being accused of doing it because I want to win an election!

The political tensions that are prevalent in Shepton Mallet Town Council, make me feel so distressed and uneasy, that I am unable to condone the operation of this town council, especially when issues such as Daniel White's job in Collett Park, have still not been properly resolved. Daniel's job is not a financial issue but an ethical and moral issue and I feel this aspect of consideration is being overlooked. I do not want to be a part of that.

There is a culture of bullying on the Town Council, where for instance our Town Clerk has been treated so appallingly and disrespectfully, that she had to take time off for work related stress. Not enough protection has been afforded to her from the aggressive comments being directed towards her. If I standby and do nothing, I might as well be one of the bullies.

The shambles of the Neighbourhood Plan has been controlled by one member of the Town Council in particular and is a perfect illustration of what is wrong. The objective of the plan is to listen to the people of the town and then enable them to express their wishes in a plan that would be accepted through a referendum. If the people of our town are not properly consulted, then this plan will not be voted for by the people. I cannot standby and support the short-sighted manner in which this plan has been handled.

Thank you to the Liberal Democrats who supported my campaign and many thanks to all the people, who voted for me by an overwhelming majority, even though I had only been in the town for just over 3 months. Your ongoing support and belief in me is amazing and I will continue to do my best for you, as an ethical, independent business woman in the town. I pledge that I will use my great sense of justice, my social media and communication skills and my vibrant personality, to help promote Shepton Mallet and to support the social causes that I believe in.

Most importantly, I'd like you to know that,

My ears are open to the wonderful people of this town, no matter of what political persuasion, I am ready to listen to you and help you, just as I was before being a councillor, when I was a councillor and now that I'm not a councillor!

12 February 2014

Gorgeous Divine Chocolate Cake Recipe!

Divine Chocolate and Raspberry Truffle Cake
By Linda Collister: 

Very pretty and special - For Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or any other celebration!
Makes one large cake
Prep time 30 minutes
Cooking time approx one hour
Serves 8-10

For the sponge:

200g Divine Dark Chocolate, broken up (available at +My Coffee Stop )
4 tbsps Amaretto Disaronno (amaretti liqueur)
200g unsalted butter, softened
200g caster sugar plus 3 tbsps extra
6 large free-range eggs, at room temperature, separated
A good pinch cream of tartar
A good pinch of salt
100g ground almonds (available at +My Coffee Stop )
125g plain flour
25g flaked almonds
125g fresh raspberries

For the icing:

150g Divine Dark Chocolate, broken up (available at +My Coffee Stop )
1 tablespoon Amaretto Disaronno
125g unsalted butter, softened
1 heaped tbsp golden syrup
To decorate: fresh raspberries, chocolate shards or curls

21cm springform tin, greased and base-lined

Preheat the oven to 180C, 350F, Gas 4.

Put the chocolate and Amaretto into a heatproof bowl.  Set over a pan of steaming hot but not boiling water and leave to melt gently.  Remove the bowl from the pan, stir the chocolate gently until smooth then leave to cool until needed.

Beat the butter until creamy, using a wooden spoon or an electric whisk. Then beat in the 200g sugar (save the rest for later).  When the mixture looks very light and fluffy beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a clean whisk until just frothy, then add the cream of tartar and the salt and continue whisking until the mixture is thick and stands in soft peaks when the whisk is lifted.  Whisk in the reserved 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Using a large metal spoon gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture, followed by the ground almonds.  Add a quarter of the egg whites and fold in.  Sift half the flour on to the mixture and fold in, then half the remaining egg whites.  Repeat with the remaining flour and whites.  Gently fold in the flaked almonds and raspberries, using just a couple of movements so the mixture is not over-worked, then spoon the mixture into the tin and spread evenly.

Bake in the heated oven for 55-60 minutes until just firm to touch and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre (avoiding the fruit) comes out clean. Run a round-bladed knife around the inside of the tin then leave to cool and firm up on a wire rack for 15 minutes before unclipping the tin.

A massive thank you to +Divine Chocolate for sharing this luxurious chocolate recipe with us!

Divine Dark Chocolate is a fantastic cooking ingredient, it has such a clean after taste but great deep chocolatly taste as you chew, we do have Dark Divine Bars in stock in both Enfield and Shepton Mallet shops, so if this recipe has inspired you, then please do come along to us and get baking! 

7 January 2014

Pathway to Success!

The reason I enjoy social media so much and implement it into my business strategy is because it makes it easier and more instant for me to communicate any ideas that I may have, it's also a great resource of inspiring ideas by other people. Ideas, communication and interaction are delightfully combined in the Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and all the rest of them are the perfect platforms for creative women in business, no matter whether at home, on the High Street or out and about. That's why I had the idea to create The Ideas Station, specialised workshops for women. It was only today, that I became truly aware of how I develop an idea of mine from the first thought, or concept, right to the end and completion. For me focus, is the most important first step that I take to bringing my ideas to fruition.

Focus is one of the most truly useful skills we can develop.

I am generally rubbish at that but each time I apply myself and consciously focus on the challenge or action I have to complete, it works. I complete successfully and my vision comes to fruition.

I am sure that you too, like me have lots and lots of thoughts and ideas zooming round your head, about everything. I'm sure you have some amazing ideas and then because of distractions, no action is taken, which means your idea floats away forgotten.

Ideas to me are such valuable celestial inspirations, they seem like bursting stars of gifts from the universe to help me through my life. I am blessed to be extremely rich in ideas, sometimes overwhelmingly rich, which can lead to inaction, as one idea after another causes it's own unique distraction.

When I have an idea, it floats around in my mind, with all the other ideas and constant background chatter that we all have about things we must do, need to do, don't want to do and so on. However, when I choose to focus on one idea, a very strong image is formed in my mind, it is so extremely powerful that it leads me to take each action necessary to implement the idea.

If I could paint what I see when I choose to focus on one idea in particular, there would be a pathway in front of me, with deep perspective, wide at the beginning, where I am standing and my ultimate goal right at the end of the path, where the lines converge. The pathway is edged with light, it could be blue, or yellow, or any other colour, or a kaleidoscope of different hues. The image has straight lines only, like the tunnel that people believe you may see when you die, with the sparkling star of the idea at the end. This visualisation wasn't taught to me, it wasn't a concious decision to use it, initially but as time goes on, that is what I do.
I purposely conjure up that image in my mind and when I say, I'm focussing on this project at the moment, I mean absolutely that. This image protects me from any other distractions, other ideas or obligations are clouded in a misty fog.

It was only today, that I absolutely wholly consciously understood what a powerful technique I have honed over the past nearly 5 years in business. It's a really reliable pathway to success. The biggest tip I can give you for 2014 and beyond is:

Focus on that future point, where your dreams are reality and come to fruition and you will find everything falls into place as you move towards your special light and your ideas transform into reality!

If you want to know more about The Ideas Station inspirational social media workshops for women, then you can read about and book them here.

5 January 2014

Facing Fats!

Since moving to Shepton Mallet in August 2013, I have been rushing around, doing many, many things. Things like, well, moving to Shepton Mallet in the first place! Running backwards and forwards to London, to run The Ideas Station, inspirational social media workshops for women, with +Cathy Underwood , leading us in a yogic introduction and meditating on believing in ourselves and nurturing our businesses and +Eve Tudor, teaching social media secrets. I've been trying sell my London flat, to make our move absolutely complete, prepared and then opened our 2nd My Coffee Stop, got the Children into local schools, got myself elected as Town Councillor, got heavily involved with the Tadley Place campaign, helped to support Danny the Collette Park Gardener's Mum and won extra funding for Ideas Station workshops in the evening, for the Lower Edmonton area of Enfield.

Do you think I ate healthily in that time?

No! I didn't, I didn't have time, I couldn't focus on food, huh, even though our shop is a coffee and health food shop! The irony of selling protein rich bags of quinoa, whilst scoffing high carbohydrate pasta at home, didn't completely pass me by and the pasta and other high carbohydrate goodies that I've been enjoying didn't pass me by either, they have resolutely stuck to my hips, thighs, bum and breasts. Some of the parts that attracted extra weight from the carbs, also attracted extra attention from my partner, Gunter Hollenstein. I'll leave it to your imagination as to which parts he most enjoyed!

Today, my 10 year old son and I were talking about healthy eating and how it relates to weight and in that discussion, he said, 'Mum, you have let yourself go a bit, you still look lovely but you were a bit more streamlined before.' Hmmmm! I looked into his big wide eyes and felt happy that he could tell me what could be taken as quite a hurtful truth. Telling the truth in that way was good, I kind of knew it myself but had hoped it wasn't noticeable! Ah, that hope was finished.

For around 5 months, I have eaten what I want, without consideration and now I'm considerably more unfit than I was before. I haven't done a Zumba class since August and I really, really miss it!
So, today I have decided, it's back to good clean healthy eating again! Yippee!

I have signed up to a very special online nutrition programme called New Skinny Me run by the ever knowledgeable and caring Amrit.

I'm looking forward to getting rid of my sugar cravings, of feeling pains in my lungs when I drink milk, of getting rid of stomach pains when I eat gluten and of getting rid of the extra weight I'm carrying around, which is making me feel tired and making my back hurt.#

Yes, I'm looking forward to this.
I'm getting myself ready to Attack that Fat!
The change to my eating habits should be for a lifetime, not just a few months, so I want to do something I can stick to.
I have tried low carb and paleo type eating regimes and I love that way of eating food more closely connected to nature.

Do you stay off gluten, or dairy? What are your favourite recipes?
Do you practice clean eating? What tricks have you got for eating out?
Please share your ideas and comment here!
I hope, maybe if you're feeling a bit unfit, that I can help to inspire you to follow my lead.

Be happy and healthy in 2014,
Love Karen. Xx

2 January 2014

Prince Charles and David Vagg invited for a cuppa with Shepton Mallet Town Councillor

So, I've been a Town Councillor in Shepton Mallet, for less than a month and I find myself immersed in a cause that I feel passionately about, working together with other Councillors on the team, from all the parties but especially +Garfield Kennedy who got me involved in this whole thing, in the first place!

Shepton Mallet Town Council and several residents from Tadley Acres have teamed up to oppose the building of over 40 houses on a gorgeous piece of green land, enjoyed by the community for several years and promised to the residents as being earmarked for community use.

This is the story of Tadley Place, as I understand it, so far:

Once upon a time, a beautiful housing development was designed and then created, the people involved in creating the ethos and ideals of this 'Village within a Town' concept, worked intensely hard on creating the dream and bringing it to fruition.

The Prince of Wales' Duchy Estates, our local farmer David Vagg and Bloor Homes, were just some of the stakeholders in this project and it was their hard work and collaboration that created a new housing development with soul and a strong sense of community. This article in Shepton Mallet Journal, 2011, states that, ' More than 90 per cent of the land on which the estate has been developed was owned by local farmer David Vagg.

The rest of the property belonged to the Duchy of Cornwall, headed by Prince Charles.

The site was planned meticulously, with frequent consultations between the Vagg family and the Duchy.

Back in 2001 Robert Adam, project architect for the Duchy of Cornwall, was reported in this newspaper saying: "David Vagg and his family wanted to give something to Shepton Mallet that they could be proud of in years to come.'

In the centre of this amazing. award-winning development, there was a glorious patch of green space, which the residents have enjoyed ever since they first moved in and continue to enjoy this day. This green space was a very special green space as it was contractually agreed that it would be used to build a school, a community centre, or other community asset, or it would not be built on at all!

Unfortunately, promises and contractual agreements seem to have been forgotten when Somerset County Council stated that the site would no longer be required, as no school would be built, as reported in this edition of The Shepton Mallet Journal, in October 2013. The article states that in a meeting on September 10th, a spokesman for CG Fry & Son said: "The site was originally reserved for a new primary school as part of the planning permission and Section 106 Agreement for the wider housing development.

"Somerset County Council has recently confirmed that the site is not now required, so the landowners have quite properly considered alternative uses with a land value to them."

Surely Somerset County Council have made a big mistake, didn't they need to say that the land needed to be kept for community use? This was stated in brochures at the time and residents have told me that they have this land reserved for community use, mentioned in their household deeds!

And look at the website of the Architect Robert Adam, where a village green, new school and community building are all mentioned.

Frustration is now building (did you like that?) for the residents of Tadley Acre, where stones with hardly visible signs on saying 'Private Land' have suddenly appeared and CG Fry & Son, want to push through plans to build 40+ houses on the site, that was originally earmarked for community use. Residents affectionately refer to this area of green land which they have collectively enjoyed for several years as Tadley Place and you can help their campaign by liking their Tadley Place Facebook Page and following Tadley Place on Twitter.

I personally feel the 'Private Land' signs should be replaced with ones saying 'Tadley Place' as in the picture above and have a wonderful picture in my mind of Prince Charles and David Vagg unveiling the new signs, happy that their original vision hasn't been destroyed!

Do you know Prince Charles, or David Vagg? I really would like to have a chat with them both. I was thinking that it would be nice to discuss over afternoon tea.

So, here is my invitation to Prince Charles and David Vagg.

Dear Prince Charles and David Vagg, you are both cordially invited to enjoy a cup of tea with me, maybe even more than one, if we get on well!

I'll provide the fair trade organic Yogi Tea.
Prince Charles, please bring some Duchy Originals biscuits for us to enjoy.
David, I'd like you to provide the milk.

Time and Date to be decided between us.

Location, Either somewhere really posh where Prince Charles is the host, maybe in a farmhouse David, or you could both come along to my little Shepton Mallet coffee and health food shop, if you wish.

Failing that, we could meet at Tadley Place but it might be a bit cold for that.

I look forward to speaking to you both about Tadley Acres and making sure that your vision for a gorgeous community, village-like development is NOT destroyed by building on the green known affectionately by residents as Tadley Place.

RSVP: cllr.k.mercer@sheptonmallet.info

Thank you. xx

If you know how to get this invite to Prince Charles and David Vagg, please do present it to them and let me know.

Are you battling against developers too, what have you managed to do to keep your treasured green spaces?

1 January 2014

The Day Michael Eavis told me NO!

2013 was the year that +Michael Eavis  successfully booked the Stones for Glastonbury Festival and it was the year that I first met Michael. He has such vitality, energy and wit about him, he is definitely no ordinary old age pensioner! 

I asked Michael if I could have some free tickets to Glastonbury, as I had never ever been before and he said something along the lines of,'Wow, amazing, incredible, gosh that is so very unusual, not many people can say that, you've never been to Glastonbury before? I quite admire that, it's quite amazing, different, yes, yes, very admirable, I respect you for that.....'

Of course I just knew he was going to give me some freebies to welcome me to Shepton Mallet, the nearest town to the festival and get me to realise why I would absolutely have to go every year....
He continued....

'It's a wonderful thing, you've never been before....' I'm nodding away, thinking...'this man likes my independent thinking, he knows I'm discerning, I'm special and once he's won me over, he knows that I'll be telling everyone how wonderful it all is, after experiencing it for the first time ever!' I was smiling at him, he was smiling at me, we both chuckled and nodded our heads at each other happily and he said....
'Let's keep it that way!'

'What?' I asked, not believing my ears, thinking he's joking.....
'I think it's a wonderful thing that you've never seen the festival, let's keep it that way!' All the while he was chuckling and smiling an impish looking smile.

This must have been the nicest way to be refused a freebie ever, ever, ever.....with smiles, laughter and jovility but my heart sank. Here I was, after just 30 minutes or so, thinking that we were best pals and he understood my quirky, eccentric ways because he too has quirky eccentric ways and oh, I was just a traitor that had never supported his vision. 

I felt bad and tried to remember why I had never ever wanted to go......wellington boots, muddy fields, too many pop stars and big egos, (my ego is enough for me in a wet, muddy, cold field) I didn't want to stand in the cold, not hearing the vocals properly, or hearing people sing flat because they can't hear themselves through the sound system. I didn't want that disappointment when you hear the talent live and compared to the tight studio sound, it's as if all the notes have been mixed up in a blender, thrown into the air and only vaguely resemble the music you know, when they come back down again. Yes, I admit, I am a Glastonbury sceptic but the reason I want to go is because I live right next to it and I love local and I love supporting local, so if this is a local initiative then that is fab and I want to join in and experience the fun! Then when I've experienced it I want to shout about it.
I'm just going to have to save up really, really hard if I want to get some festival tickets!

The reason that I went to see Michael with  is because I wanted to ask him to support me in my campaign to be Town Councillor in  and he did and I won the election with a landslide victory! So a massive thank you anyway to Michael for supporting my campaign and of course to Garfield and  for supporting me all the way! 

Did you ever ask a cheeky something from someone? Did you get what you requested, or did they say 'No' and have you ever had a 'no' as nice as the one that Michael gave to me? I'd love to know, please comment here.

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