It’s 1984. The ‘Iron Lady’ is Prime Minister, Frankie Goes To Hollywood are at number one in the charts, and Apple release their first Macintosh computer. Closer to home in Bognor Regis, Harold Zimmer flies 57.8 metres to claim the top prize at Birdman, and the doors of Davis’s Greengrocers open for the first time.
However, it all started a lot further back than that, says Trevor, who runs Davis’s, as he reminisces about his time selling fruit and vegetables in Bognor Regis, and the characters he worked alongside.
‘I started off as a Saturday boy when I was 12 years old. My job was to deliver vegetables and soft drinks to customers on a trade bike, which I’d try and balance on the rickety old roads!’ And it wasn’t just fruit and veg that Trevor was immersed in,
‘We’d have ‘Tom the Poacher’ hang his rabbits and pheasants out back, the local fishing fraternity would bring their catch in, and the local magazine man would drop off his papers and soft drinks.’
The first 'shop' Trevor worked from was on Nyewood Lane. ‘It was attached to an old smugglers cottage, called Nutshell Cottage which had secret staircases for the smugglers to use, however, sadly the cottage was demolished to accommodate a block of flats.’
If you feel like taking a stroll down Bognor Regis’s memory lane, Trevor is the man to speak to. He recalls with fondness the smaller units at the railway station where The Station Pub is now located: ‘There used to be lots of smaller business there at one point, and back in those days, you’d have to sign up to a 20-year lease, which you wouldn’t see the likes of now, and I suppose why we see such frequent change in our high streets.’
Except for a very short stint in the 80’s, Trevor has always been in the fruit and veg industry. His knowledge and enthusiasm for the industry comes as second nature, and he talks about the changes he’s seen in the past 37 years within the horticulture industry; a sector that West Sussex is well-known for leading in the UK.
‘There used to be many local suppliers, and most of them would travel from this area to and from large National markets, like Covent Garden - we would go out in the trucks every Monday morning and pick up all the local stuff, so it was quite prolific in those days through the 60’s and 70’s, although most of these producers are gone now. And we used to have something called the Land Settlement Association (LSA), which supported people who wanted to get into growing and were given a set amount of acreage to provide food locally, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and mushrooms. There used to be quite a few mushroom growers in West Sussex, however most of our mushrooms now come from The Netherlands or Eastern Europe. The LSA came to an end in the early 80’s, so, there was a decline in local produce from that point on.’
In recent years, we have seen a surge in ‘shop local’ messages, and encouragement to source products locally; Trevor gives an insight into how important this message is, and some of the challenges to it being adopted by everyone:
‘I think the Government is a bit late in the game; we used to have orchards across West Sussex that have now been built upon, and many farmers were given money for their land, so of course at the time, they were going to think that retiring early was the best option! I think one of the biggest ‘problems’ is people want cheap food. The theory is, you should pay for what you get, and I think we should support and be grateful to local farmers that feed us, rather than knock them for being expensive.’
When you buy cheap food from larger supermarkets, you’re not supporting a farmer in the UK, but one outside of the UK, whose cost of living is a lot smaller. Sadly, our local farmers have not been able to compete, or sustain producing cheaper produce. People say they want to shop local, but they also demand cheap food, and this can’t be done. Local farmers can’t compete or make a living that way.
We try to source as much produce locally as possible - like our raspberries and strawberries - and will always buy local where possible. We have a few farm shops across West Sussex, but we’re one of the last remaining greengrocers in the area.’
During our visit to Davis’s, a local chef comes in to buy vegetables, and Trevor explains that a lot of local independent businesses come to him for their produce. ‘I supply to a lot of cafes, pubs and takeaways, although not a huge number of restaurants. This is what really keeps the business going, and without this, the shop wouldn’t be able to sustain itself.’
It’s comforting to hear that our strong community of local independents are supporting one another, and the message here would be to encourage more of this ‘circular economy’. It’s clear that Trevor would source more locally, if possible, but that can’t be achieved without the support of the local business and residential community.
One of our favourite items that Davis’s stocks is locally produced honey, from an apiary in Fishbourne. Trevor also delights in the selection of Hill Farm apple juices he sells, with an extensive variety of flavours from locally grown apples - he certainly knows his Braeburn’s from his Bramleys!
Their shelves are always, (and thankfully) well stocked, and Trevor and his wife, Claire keep a pristine environment for you to enjoy browsing - with as minimal plastic wrapping as possible!
It is always a joy to pop into Davis’s. Trevor has all the bells and whistles of your ‘friendly greengrocer’, and will do his best to make you smile, whether you’re a new customer or old. He has a wealth of experience in, and huge understanding of the industry, which makes you want to support his commitment all the more. Through Davis’s unique and rich story as an independent business in Bognor Regis we can see the importance of the ‘shop local’ message and the impact it has on our wider community.
If you’ve walked past Davis’s window before, and not popped in – we highly recommend it! And if the warm glow of shopping local doesn’t make you feel good, then Trevor’s welcome surely will.
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