After ranging as far as Luton Hoo in my last post, my thirst to share Luton’s exotic outposts with you, dear reader, remains unslated. In which vein, a focus on Stopsley seems long overdue. I was tempted to include this post within my ‘café culture’ series (series of one…) because I do have a review to make of Coffee Express, but I’m going to save that for later.
The real star and focus of this piece is the Fair Deal World Shop, Luton’s very own fairtrade store, dedicated entirely to selling ethical goods (food, cleaning products, homewares and gifts) and proving that it is just about possible to sustain an avowedly ethical business within Luton. The Fair Deal World Shop is an unexpected treasure, and it needs our support.
But back to Stopsley for a moment. Stopsley appears as ‘Stopeslegh in Soca de Luton’ in a law record dated to 1440. While I’ve been struggling to determine whether ‘soca’ really is the right word (it doesn’t seem to have a Latin translation, but then again, I’m not a Latinist), I assume it may mean something along the lines of ‘near to’ or ‘in the region of’ Luton. Not far from where I live in Round Green, Stopsley is the last pit-stop, barring Butterfield Business and Technology Park, before hitting the open road to Hitchin, a full 7 miles down the road.
The meanly-minded will suggest that Stopsley is now mostly a roundabout organised around Jansel House, an ugly brown-brick office block built in 1961. The hard men and wandering mirth collective behind Luton Haiku, Clod Magazine and local irono-punk outfit, The Knockouts, have memorably redescribed Stopsley-dwellers as ‘Janselites’, which I rather appreciate. There’s certainly no getting away from Jansel House, which houses a number of offices and retail premises, with a greengrocer’s, pharmacy and the new Keech charity ‘superstore’ among the shops on the ground floor.
Across from the roundabout on Hitchin Road, there is a small but almost perfectly formed high street leading to the war memorial that stands at the junction of Hitchin Road with St Thomas’s Road. One of the things I like about Stopsley is the way that it is a remarkably self-sufficient community, with a bank, library, doctors’ surgery, two supermarkets and a pub and schools and churches, such as the fearsomely organised Stopsley Baptist Church and the more traditional parish church at St Thomas’s, which offers, intriguingly to my mind, a programme of ‘rolling worship’ on a Sunday (the charismatic evangelicals ain’t got nothing on that).
A few paces from the roundabout, the new council-owned sports centre, Inspire, was recently opened next door to the Vale Crematorium, a memento mori and a powerful memento corporalis exercitium, if ever there was one. Coming into Stopsley from Round Green, there is also the wonderfully named ‘Upside Project’, an adult day-care service run by the council.
Stopsley is also home to the local Conservative Club and a diacritic-mangling abomination of a gift shop called justüs, but don’t let those put you off.
[An äsïde about justüs and their kïnd: döwn wïth thïs sört öf thïng. If there’s no need for a diacritic, don’t simply whack one in there because you think it’s cool, unless you’re Mötley Crüe: it was quite amusing when they did it, but a misemployed umlaut makes words painfully unpronounceable, and makes you look like an idiot. Further afield, the worst example of this is in Brighton, where the Housê Restaurant brazenly continues to commit the direst offence against circumflexes.]
The Fair Deal World Shop, then, at 605 Hitchin Road, more than repays the effort of a visit. It’s a lovely little shop, open 10-5 Monday to Saturday and is a surprisingly useful place. Their range of fairtrade foods is quite extensive, from coffee and tea, chocolate, spreads, pasta, rice, spices, cereals and a number of different varieties of beans. Having recently taken enthusiastically to home-making hummus (it takes a moment to make and is better than most of the shop-bought stuff), I can heartily (if windily) recommend the entire range:
There’s also a good selection of cleaning products and gifts. Their hand-worked silver jewellery is both lovely and inexpensive, and there are wooden toys, birthday cards, and homewares of various kinds. I’m banging on about this shop, because it really is a good place and it deserves our support. While there’s no chance of a Whole Foods or a Planet Organic (or even a Waitrose!) coming to Luton any time soon, we can get behind and channel a little of our discretionary spending towards the Fair Deal World Shop, and everyone – you, me, the shop and the social fabric of Luton itself (but possibly not Tesco) – will be slightly better for it. A small spend of, say, £5-£10/month at the Fair Deal World Shop would make only the slightest dent in a middle-income family shopping budget, and could place their business on a far more secure financial basis.
I have recently heard that the shop is struggling a bit (it’s usually pretty quiet when I go in there), and that for years it’s been kept afloat by bulk orders for fairly-traded tea/coffee and bottles of Ecover placed by local churches. It would be a terrible shame to lose it, simply because none of us ever quite got round to heading in occasionally for a bar of Green & Black’s and a birthday card. I realise that I have been as remiss on this front as anyone, and – the penuries of student living aside – I will aim to get my washing-up liquid and tea from there from now on.
All of this is really quite central to what I am perhaps grandly going to call the Yoga World & Pesto mission, which is both to celebrate and focus attention on what is good in Luton, as well as pointing up what could be better. While I would personally love the Fair Deal World Shop to be based nearer to town (and indeed, it used to be in High Town many years ago), I understand that they are constrained by rental rates and are not completely reliant on passing trade. If it goes, nothing will replace it, and indeed it’s entirely likely that the premises themselves would stand empty for a long period, leading to the greater erosion of Stopsley as a community and a place for local jobs. If we don’t want to lose it, we need to use it.