Best of Lancashire: How Lancashire led the world on Fair Trade Towns

On the eve of Lancashire Day we turn a spotlight on one of the county’s most unusual homegrown success stories.

Friday, 26th November 2021, 9:26 am

Ask people to mention the best of Lancashire and they may think of industrial might when cotton was king and British Leyland a by-word.

They might think of cheese and fine farm produce. They may think of stars from the world of sports and the arts, of present day digital and business pioneers, and even of the Lancastrian red rose.

But one thing they might not have been aware of is that Lancashire has led the world with one town's pioneering role in the creation of the international Fair Trade Towns movement.

Bruce Crowther pictured with his new book Not in my Lifetime

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This week sees the publication of a special book which tells the story of how support for Fair Trade Towns spread across the world and also tells in part the story of their founder and most passionate advocate, former vet Bruce Crowther, who has made Lancashire his home and who has written the book.

Entitled ‘Not in my Lifetime. A Fair Trade Campaigner’s Journal’ Bruce’s book has been published to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Garstang officially becoming the world's first Fair Trade town. It also marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of the first international Fair Trade visitor centre The FIG Tree, which had an exhibition and cafe in Garstang’s now demolished community and business centre.

It was in April 2000 that a declaration was made at a public meeting that the Wyre market town of Garstang would be a Fair Trade town, committed to the principle of ensuring producers got a fair price for their produce and were paid fairly for their labour. On November 21, 2001 TV presenter Tony Robinson visited to mark the presentation of the first Fair Trade Town’s certificate.

Sign celebrating Garstang as the world's first Fair Trade Town (Bruce Crowther pictured centre)

Today more than 2,000 towns in 34 countries aross six continents have followed Garstang’s example, together creating an international movement for change.

The cost of editing, designing and printing the £14 book was crowdfunded and proceeds will be divided between The FIG Tree, Oxfam and the Lorna Young Foundation, a charity which focuses on ethical trading.

Bruce, who went on to become a Fair Trade Towns Coodinator and Fair Trade Towns Ambassador and is director of The FIG Tree, started writing the book in 2009. Lockdown enabled him to complete it and bring his account further up to date.

But while he says it is “fantastic” to see his book published, he stresses that while he has shared details about his life and and his family, it is in the context of how the commitment to Fair Trade grew and the obstacles which came along the way in persuading people to support the concept.

Bruce leads a From Bean To Bar workshop

The book tells of Bruce’s early childhood, his travels in his student days and as a young adult, his own difficulties and his growing commitment to reducing world poverty plus his decision to become a Quaker.

He said: “It’s hard if you’re going to make a difference in the world.”

Working for a short time as a vet in Northern Ireland after qualifying he set up an Oxfam campaign group there and later started an Oxfam group in Garstang. He traces how this in turn led to his focus on Fair Trade, which had also grown out of his travels.

As he writes he reminds readers of the statistics which have driven him, citing The Oxfam Report which detailed how “A small child dies every 2.4 second from poverty.”

Bruce Crowther - veterinary student

In his book he notes: “Unfortunately, although the frequency of deaths has slightly decreased, this terrible statistic has shown little change. The tragedy is entirely preventable, which in my view makes it totally unacceptable.”

He maintains travel is one of the ways the way to counter “fear of things we don’t understand” and said: “The travels were really important because that’s what really laid the foundations for wanting to do what I did.” adding: “The book is not about me it’s about the Fair Trade story but it’s in my perspective from the way I see it.”

Aware that not everyone supports or supported the Fair Trade initiatives he said: “Some people did see it differently.”

The book’s pages contain tributes to his wife Jane and three children who have all supported him in his work and have also worked to help promote Fair Trade.

The book is pitched at a global audience and last Saturday, Bruce, who has now stepped down from active campaigning, was invited to speak online at the International Fair Trade Town Conference in Zurich. The 62 year old: “That’s what the Garstang story is all about...it’s about what Garstang has done to the world. It’s what it set up.”

Although Garstang led the way, it was not able to offer a permanent home for The FIG Tree. But the FIG Tree, which opened in 2011 continued after its Garstang premises closed in 2015. The council decided to sell the former council offices and visitor centre at the top of the High Street for development and The FIG Tree was later based in Lancaster until its new venue, St John's church, flooded.

Bruce pictured in the new premises for The FIG Tree in Dolphinholme, near Garstang

Now Bruce has set up some of the former visitor centre displays, his personal collection, including gifts from wife Jane, in new FIG Tree premises at his home in Dolphinholme, near Garstang. Many of the centre's exhibits have gone to be shown at the Wilberforce House Museum in Yorkshire and it’s hoped a travelling exhibition may follow. They tell not just of fair trade, but of the slave trade too.

Meanwhile Bruce plans to continue to lead The FIG Tree's From Bean to Bar workshops for school pupils and adults to highlight the use of fairly traded cocoa beans in chocolate making. He purchases the beans from a farmer in New Koforidua, Ghana, African’s first Fair Trade town.

He is aware that much work still needs to be done to spread the Fair Trade message and acknowledges it will also fall to future Fair Trade campaigners to continue to highlight the need for change in a world facing climate change and where many continue to suffer extreme poverty and hunger.

* To find out more about the bean to bar workshops contact Bruce at [email protected]

* For more about The FIG Tree see: https://fairtradecentre.org/

* 'Not in My Lifetime. A Fair Trade Campaigner’s Journal” can be ordered from and purchased directly from The FIG Tree or at bookshops and is available online. It costs £14 in paperback. Hardback copies can also be ordered from Bruce at £27.

* Fair Trade cities today include London, Dublin, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Seoul, Chicago and San Francisco.

For The FIG Tree website see here or at https://fairtradecentre.org/

For more on Bruce's work see here and hereShare with us what makes you proud of Lancashire by emailing us at [email protected] or contact us on Facebook.

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The Bean To Bar chocolates
New Koforidua was Africa's first Fair Trade town
Bruce with some of the cocoa beans he uses to make the From Bean To Bar chocolate
Bruce - a childhood photo