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From Africa to Southwold

PUBLISHED: 11:25 29 September 2015

Spunyarns, in Southwold.

Spunyarns, in Southwold.

Amy Gallivan found out how one Southwold newsagents creates ‘brighter lives’ for communities through its sale of African handcrafted merchandise. Photos by Sarah Lucy Brown.

Spunyarns, in Southwold.Spunyarns, in Southwold.

There’s certainly more than meets the eye at one newsagents in Southwold as it not only sells the usual chocolate bars and newspapers, but also stocks a range of African products with a proportion of its profits made, going directly back to the people who make them.

Last January, Dr Jane E Miller OBE and her husband Jonathan bought Purdy’s Newsagents in Southwold’s High Street and later in July, opened up a Spunyarns’ shop - a room out the back which houses an array of brightly-coloured East African merchandise.

“We moved to Southwold last year and bought the newsagents as we were keen to bring up our ten-year-old twin girls here but we wanted to bring something back from Africa,” said Jane E Miller.

And the name Purdy’s was also changed to reflect the new shop, Jane explained: “Spunyarns comes from the name of my parent’s beach hut and signifies the newspaper (spinning yarns) side of the business as well as the array of African fabrics used to make the bags and cloths.”

Spunyarns, in Southwold.
Jonathan Sutton and Jane Miller with their children Abi (blue) and Ella (pink) Miller Sutton.Spunyarns, in Southwold. Jonathan Sutton and Jane Miller with their children Abi (blue) and Ella (pink) Miller Sutton.

“I believe Spunyarns is bringing something different to Southwold and the UK by importing high quality unusual products from Africa with personalised stories,” Jane said.

Currently, Spunyarns, a company set up in 2013, has nine suppliers, two of which are based in Tanzania and the rest in Kenya with each of the companies being chosen for their uniqueness and vision.

“We stock a colourful selection of present ideas including aprons, cafetiere covers, tea cosies, napkins, oven gloves, shopping bags made of recycled billboards and weekend bags made from bright cotton Khanga material, cushions and rugs plus pencils cases, pens bags and scrunchies,” added Jane.

“There’s also bright beaded collars and leads for our pets, plus t-shirts and traditional seaside memorabilia,” said Jane.

One of Spunyarns’ new suppliers, known as Amani ya Juu, meaning ‘higher peace’ in Swahili, is a Fairtrade sewing and economic development programme for marginalised women in Africa who have escaped wars, famine and disease from countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. The women then work in Nairobi to make products for which they receive financial, educational and spiritual benefits.

And The Mabinti Centre, which is a project involving one of largest disability hospitals in Tanzania, CCBRT, trains young woman recovering from fistula surgery in screen-printing, sewing, beading and crochet.

“The stories of these women suffering, needing this type of surgery is very sad but they get involved with projects and receive the operation to mend them. All of our products have a back story. The ethos behind Spunyarns is to help create brighter lives through the crafts and also through the bright material,” Jane said.

“Although we do sell these products, we donate a proportion of the funds made and give it directly back to the companies those of which help the women who need the fistula surgery and support. The products have been really well received by those who have seen them and I hope people see we are a newsagents with a bit of difference,” Jane added.

In fact, Jane lived in East Africa for 20 years, working on malaria control, later being awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her services in Tanzania where she met Jonathan 15 years ago.

“It was a good experience and although people might think I’ve hung my mosquito net up, I travelled globally and my husband still works out there, so it is good to bring part of Africa back to help support these causes but to also settle and run the business here in Southwold,” Jane commented.

Spunyarns, formally Purdy’s the Newsgents, is based at 37 High Street, Southwold. Call 01502 724250 for further details.

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