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In conversation with Melissa Hemsley

For anyone who has been in a room with Melissa Hemsley, you will know she lights up a room with her energy, enthusiasm and curiosity. It’s a rare thing to be a good speaker as well as a listener. I always find nuggets of practical and enjoyable wisdom in any conversation, so we wanted to share an interview with her, where we catch up with her on how she’s been during lockdown, her home style, how she uses her QÄSA QÄSA products and also pinch her recipe from Eat Green for ‘Barazi’ (kidney bean curry) which she learnt during her visit to Kenya (click here for recipe).

Photo credit by Chris Terry for FairTrade

How has lockdown been and what have been your biggest concerns from this change of pace and lack of contact?

I’ve been ok, I'm sure like many people it has been a rollercoaster, there’s been ups and downs, you never really know which day your going to get, such is a monthly cycle for a woman anyway with everything else on top. I’ve had what feels like my full spectrum of emotions. I’m very glad I went on a grief retreat at the end of last year, it really helped me work out how to talk about feelings.

At the beginning, I was concerned about loneliness and a loss of community, but actually I feel that lots of people have pulled together. I’ve seen and experienced lots of amazing community initiatives; my whole street came together and I’ve met lots of new neighbours. I’ve got really into cooking with OLIO, which is a brilliant app that is now going global. I’ve been involved in a campaign called ‘Cook For Kids’, which started as soon as the government announced that the schools were closing and it helped support meals within neighbourhoods, to offer food for families who were feeling the pressure to supply extra meals because the kids are at home.

I was also concerned for ‘food’ friends who were looking for ways to survive and looking for new avenues when restaurants closed etc. But the way people have pulled together has been brilliant.

I’ve also been concerned about disposable face masks and gloves. I understand lots of industries need this, but when going on daily walks or getting shopping done, people are just discarding masks which is such a shame. But I’ve also seen lots of new brands emerge to fulfil what people need and create sustainable masks.

You've been a wonderful supporter of ours from the start, which of our items do you use and what do you like about them?

Oh gosh, I love your lemon squeezer and your hand towels! I use them all the time; in the bathroom, as tea towels, or even as table napkins. I love the Blantyre Jar for bath salts and I also use them for keeping beans and things in the kitchen (pictured in her kitchen below). I just love everything.

photo credit Sarah Malcolm

What does sustainability mean for you and what are some easy ways we can learn more and engage with it.

I consider sustainability now in everything I do. I have to think ‘do I need it, can I repair it, what will be the implication of..., is there a better way or a more thoughtful or considerate way to do something. I question myself when it comes to travelling (obviously not now), consuming or repairing. I always consider if somethings life has come to an end, can it be converted? We’ve got my boyfriends old sideboard which we've turned into the bathroom cabinet. I know it's not necessarily an obvious one, but it actually makes it more exciting and satisfying if you find a new home or use for something really great.

I think that everyone has their own sustainability journey and there will be different ways that people spring into action because of it. I feel like people say once you start thinking of sustainability in one area of your life, for example food or fashion or homeware or travel you can't stop thinking about it. So I set up Sustainability Sessions to answer millions of questions. What I've come to realise is that there's no perfect way of doing it. The best thing to do is to work out what we can commit to now, make plans and target things we can commit to in 2021. Keep repeating these positive habits everyday, and pass on and share this knowledge with loved ones or on social media platforms. It takes so long to research the different ways all of us impact the world - it would take so much effort and isn’t possible to be entirely sustainable, that doesn’t exist, so we've got to help each other out.

An idea to make this work is that you can work within your friendship groups. Maybe one person can investigate a way to use reusable nappies; another can look at a way to store leftover food; maybe someone can look at a better way to grow veg, or an option for reusable face masks.

My Sustainability Sessions are something I wish could be hosting right now. But the whole idea is that they are live events. Sustainability Sessions happened at the end of last year. It included great names like Anita Rani, June Sarpong, Ferne Cotton, Emma Gannon and Emma Cannon. Lots of things were discussed: food, fashion, women's health, beauty, travel, careers and mental health.

It is about brilliant people talking about what sustainability means to them.

Define your home 'style'

'Eclectic and a little bit random' is the best possible way I can describe it! I don’t think about it and I only buy what I know to be useful and beautiful, as William Morris quoted. I like to only buy from people, like your good selves, who are committed to honouring and paying makers and showcasing the people behind the product. I like colour, stories and brands that care. I also like comfy and practical things. My kitchen is my home space and working space.

What are you reading / watching / listening to right now?

I am continuing my Anti Racism reading, I'm sure like lots of us. So I'm doing that constantly, and will be for the future as it is important and ongoing work. I'm reading Afua Hirsch, Brit(ish). She's interesting and clever and a great speaker and writer. She challenges everything (as we should be) on racism.

I'm also reading a book called 'The Body Keeps the Score’ – which is about trauma which has been fascinating and emotional.

I really recommend a documentary called Love(d) on Amazon Prime. It follows a group going through the therapy retreat that I went on. It's very similar to what I went through and it's heartbreaking but positive.

How do you balance work and life? Any tips?

Try to not open your laptop or phone (although I'm doing both right now on a weekend!). I mark days in the diary, to have days to look forward to, and make sure on those days you are not on digital devices. My boyfriend is on his phone constantly because he works erratic hours, and with people in the US, so his phone is on all the time, which I find quite hard to be around. Just work out what suits you. For me it's marking the end of the working day by putting my laptop and phone away, I mean literally putting them in a cupboard. If I remember, I like to lie down on the floor and remember to just stop. I close my eyes. Eye health is so important, I've just started wearing glasses in the last year and realising just how much work our eyes go through, so just take a minute to close and look after your eyes.

Writing a gratitude list is very helpful. Write realistic, good goals. Not unachievable goals where you beat yourself up if you don't achieve them. I think its important to understand what success means to you because a lot of us used to find the idea of switching off from work hard. When I work out what success and productivity is for me, it reminds me that it is about enjoying a day of work and walking away from it, and finding joy in the rest of the day.

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