By JOY TANDY
Life is difficult in Makhanda/Grahamstown at the moment. We have been battling the Covid epidemic for a year and recently the entire town was shut down because of the strike which highlighted the shocking state of affairs of the town and the poor service delivery on the part of the municipality. Through it all, the little shop in Pepper Grove Mall, which sells just about everything from delicious country favourites, chicken pies, home-baked cakes to brownies, knitted toys, crocheted toilet roll covers – Home Industries – has stayed open – except for a brief closure in the worst, early days of Covid. And now, in the winter of 2021, we are celebrating our 50th birthday.
Fifty years ago – in the winter of 1971, the Eastern Cape was experiencing a terrible drought and in the background were political rumblings which could not be ignored. Farmers were struggling to survive and a group of farmers’ wives, led by Hope Coleman, decided to start an enterprise which would help to generate an income. Hope, together with Dolly Bowker, Kate Dougmore, Kathleen Dougmore, Carol White, Ine Bouwie, Mrs Bradwell and Mrs Francis, registered with and obtained a Constitution from Cipro (in Pretoria) and started a business at 16 Hill Street Grahamstown.
At first, husbands were roped in as members because the Cipro Board stipulated that there must be 25 members – but it was the women who did all the work. They baked, they knitted, they made lemon squash and they served it in the shop.
The business is run on co-operative principles. All the members contribute to the management and operation of the business, as well as produce all the goods offered for sale. Every member completes four or five “duties” a month. A duty consists of half a day’s work on the shop floor, as the cashier. Maintaining a good sized membership of active, involved members is fundamental to the success of the enterprise.
There is a seven-person Board of elected Directors who meet once a month but who and in constant contact every day of the week. Cellphones are a wonderful boon!
Each committee member has a portfolio such as “fudges and freezers” or “baking” or “shop purchases”. One member who is not on the committee is in charge of finances and collates all the tickets and pays out each month according to the sales each person has made. An arduous task, which is essential to the smooth running of the shop.
For every item sold 15% of the earnings returns to the business to pay for overheads like rent, water and electricity.
The business has a real family dynamic, which filters through into the store’s atmosphere, but there are strict quality control measures in place to ensure that a high standard is maintained.
Bakers must submit a sample of whatever they want to place on the shelves. This is tested/tasted at one of the monthly committee meetings and will be passed or rejected. Rejections are explained (too much salt, texture not good, icing messy) and suggestions made for improvement, so that the item can be re-submitted. Handcraft is scrutinised for flaws before going on to the shelf.
The bakers and craftswomen pride themselves on each product being unique, with its own special appeal. You can recognise the baker of the cake by the style of the icing! The chicken and meat pies have their own special decorations: if you like the chicken pie with the clover leaf, you won’t buy the one with the rose!
Home Industries is a happy place and members and customers sometimes pop in, just for a chat . We are grateful to customers who have stayed loyal through all the problems of the past months. Who have uncomplainingly queued while limited numbers were allowed in. Customers who have had to adjust their buying habits to inconvenient opening and closing times and kept coming to buy.
Hopefully we will be able to keep to regular shopping hours (8am to 5.30pm) in the future and we look forward to another 50 years of business in a flourishing and healthy town.