Aiming to make packaging-free shopping local, easy and convenient – and utilizing ‘Ernie’, a repurposed, battery-powered vintage milk float – The People’s Pantry has launched to sell zero-waste essentials in North London.
“Like many, lockdown became a time to slow down, to look around and to re-evaluate,” says co-founder Lisa Jones, who set up the business in Muswell Hill in July 2021 with husband Stephen Thomas. “We discovered the value of our community, of our local shops and watched our planet’s tentative steps to self-heal. We realized that we wanted to do something more meaningful, to ‘do our bit’ towards tackling the climate emergency and to help our community to do so too.”
Jones says that spotting a ‘crumbling’ 1970s milk float on eBay was the catalyst. Ernie the float was purchased, restored and converted into a zero-waste shop, with banks of refill dispensers carrying about 130 sustainably sourced products across food, oat milk, bathroom and eco-cleaner essentials.
We discovered the value of our community, of our local shops and watched our planet’s tentative steps to self-heal
Ernie is booked for street visits by groups of neighbours, often through WhatsApp, who then turn up with empty containers to fill with products, and catch up with community news. For those who are working or can’t leave the house, The People’s Pantry offers a parallel doorstep delivery, courtesy of ‘Eric’ the ex-Royal Mail vintage bike. Orders are placed online and then delivered in reusable glass containers, which are left out to be collected, sanitized and returned to the closed loop system. Working with this model, the eco-enterprise says there are ‘no minimum orders, no delivery charges, no emissions and no hassle’.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Jones. “So many people have been looking for doable solutions to living more sustainably; and the fact that we bring a bit of fun and nostalgia and an old school sociable element back to shopping seems to really chime … we are essentially replicating the historic model of the milkman.”