I was thrilled to be invited to be the featured `Maker of the Month' in the Ruscombe & Whiteshill Community Shop. It's a bustling little volunteer-run shop and cafe in my neighbouring village of Whiteshill, much loved and used by locals & visitors. It stocks pretty much everything from groceries and freezer meals supplied by local farm shops to local art and penny sweets (thereby cleverly ensuring regular visits by future customers!)
There's also a little cafe where you can get a great cup of cafetiere coffee and slice of freshly baked cafe to enjoy while browsing the selection of second hand books - that's if you can tear yourself away from the gorgeous view across the Ruscombe valley, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
College Green has supplied the shop since the introduction of a crafters section a few years ago, although when I was first approached I was told that regretfully, a soap costing £5 just wouldn't sell so please don't expect to sell any.
Thankfully Whiteshill shoppers are a discerning lot, and I've sold many soaps, bath soaks and candles in the intervening years.
So when I was asked by Claire, who manages the craft section, to be November's featured maker, I jumped at the chance, especially as for this month I have more shelf space to display larger gift boxes alongside the soaps, bath soaks, candles and reed diffusers.
The shop keeps a percentage of every sale, which helps towards the running costs.
There's a bio so shoppers can find out more about the person that makes the goods, and this is mine:
Hello, I’m Rachael from College Green and I’m very happy to be the `maker of the month’ at my favourite shop!
My interest in making soaps began when I made a `melt and pour’ soap many years ago with my children. I started to research soap making and discovered the traditional cold process method of soap making. I started selling soap at a request by Made in Stroud shop, as their regular soap supplier had move out of the area. So, I created College Green and signed up for a monthly Stroud Farmers’ Market stall the following month; I still attend every fourth Saturday.
Over the years I’ve added more products to the College Green range: there’s now aromatherapy bath soaks, candles, reed diffusers, facial steams, a pillow spray, gift boxes and gift wrapping made from vintage silk scarves.
All my packaging is plastic free, reusable and recyclable, and I was awarded a Surfers Against Sewage Plastic Free Champion award by Transition Stroud.
As well as selling locally at the farmers’ market, Whiteshill Shop, and the Vine Tree in Randwick, I supply Made in Stroud with bath soaks under the Bathe in Stroud brand. And I have a website and an Etsy shop.
My most popular products all contain lavender: Lavender & Patchouli soap, Sleep Easy bath soak with lavender & valerian, and the Sleep Easy gift set with a soap, bath soak and lavender candle, so I’ve just created a Sleep Easy pillow and room spray with lavender, neroli, chamomile and patchouli essential oils to help calm the mind, relax the senses and invite a relaxing night’s sleep. The testers I’ve taken to my recent markets have had great feedback and I think it’s going to be popular as a Christmas gift.
Autumn and Winter are my busiest times with people buying gifts. As well as the farmers’ market I attend a few local Christmas markets which I love, and it’s a fabulous feeling to know that someone has chosen something I’ve made as a gift.
Customers often tell me they are buying locally made gifts to take on their travels, so College Green products can be found in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Brazil and all over Europe. Soaps are particularly popular because they don’t take much room in a suitcase, and people love the fact that they are made with spring water from Randwick Churchyard.
People are sometimes surprised that I have a full time job and run College Green in my spare time from home, but that way I get the best of both worlds. And I’m never bored!
I write updates on the College Green website and send a monthly email newsletter with news, new products and discounts – you can sign up to receive it at www.naturalsoap.shop or follow me on social media.
It's well worth a visit if you're in the area. The shop sits next to a brilliant enclosed children's play area and has a large, flat grassy field - which could explain why it's a popular walk for families from my neighbouring village of Randwick, which has such a sloping field it's actually called The Slope!
Ruscombe & Whiteshill Village Shop, The Playing Field, Lower Street, Whiteshill, Stroud, GL6 6AN
*The first photo definitely wasn't taken in the Ruscombe Valley! It's at Canary Wharf in London.