Could you live off British goods for a year? Meet the family who found out

We all want to support British businesses. But how far can you really walk the talk?

This week Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said we Brits should be buying more food produced at home. It’s an easy statement to make, considering as a nation we produce only 76% of what we eat, but how easy is it to do?

The Bradshaw family made a pledge at the start of the year that they’d rely solely on British goods and produce for the next 12 months. It seemed pretty straightforward at first – after all, one of the largest economies in the world must be able to be self-sufficient, right?

But after a short time it became apparent that the task would be harder than first thought.

The rules were simple: the Bradshaws were only allowed to buy British goods and use British services. If it wasn’t made in Britain, it wasn’t allowed, which meant saying goodbye to a lot of their beloved brands.

There were a few exceptions – medicines being the main one – but generally the family kept very strictly to the rules. They also allowed themselves to use household goods they already had, as gutting their entire house would have been a bit silly, but if anything needed replacing over the year it was replaced with a British alternative, or not at all.

After a couple of weeks the Bradshaws realised they needed to ditch supermarkets and many high street shops. British food was much easier to come by than other goods, but they often found supermarket labelling confusing.

They joined a grocery box scheme, which provided them with fresh seasonal produce from local farmers, and learnt where to get many household essentials, such as toilet roll.

The Bradshaw family

The family joined a grocery box scheme to get fresh local produce

Press attention

Within just a couple of weeks news of their pledge had spread and the family were soon splashed across national newspapers, such as the Mail on Sunday, and were interviewed on BBC Breakfast.

“We’d have just been happy getting something in our local paper,” says James Bradshaw. He, along with his wife Emily and their three year-old son Lucan, took part in countless interviews for television, radio and newspapers over the course of the year, reaching as far as Japanese and Chinese television and Italy’s largest magazine. “We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve,” he says.

And, of course, the interviews have not stopped. Part of the reason for this is how unusual it is in a country as diverse as Britain to find people taking on such an endeavour.

“It’s a shame it’s so newsworthy in a way,” says James. “That’s a sign there is an issue.”

Lucan Bradshaw

Son Lucan, 3, got accustomed to having his photo taken after the press descended on their story

Supporting British businesses

The pledge the family took should not be mistaken for an anti-imports sentiment, James stresses. From day one, the main impetus for the Bradshaws was the well-publicised murky tax affairs of large foreign companies such as Starbucks and Amazon, and that it was obvious to James and Emily that British businesses needed to be supported.

“We were both fed up that some sectors were grossly underrepresented,” says James. “We’re coming out of one of the biggest recessions and it’s hard not to look back and think there has been a neglect of industries such as manufacturing and farming.

“It’s difficult not to be p*ssed off at that.”

While James admits there is a place for financial services, he thinks our traditional industries still provide the bedrock of the British economy.

“It feels like we’ve spent the last 30 years in a casino. Industries like manufacturing and farming underpin our ability to take risks in our economy, and they’ve been forgotten. Something’s got to be done.”

Top household brands you might not know are made in Britain:

Alpen

Ready Brek

Jacobs

McVities

Sunpak

Numatic

Lush Cosmetics

Yardley

Triumph Motorcycles

Morgan Motors

Hayter Lawn Mowers

Once people started to see their faces in newspapers and magazines, the Bradshaws were inundated with support from small and medium-sized businesses and the general public.

“It’s tragic that businesses feel let down by politicians and business leaders,” says James.

The family unwittingly started to become advocates for British businesses and experts on what is and is not produced in Britain.

“We felt and still feel the pressure to be ambassadors,” he said. “And we’ll do that until someone comes along who is in a better position to do that than us.”

The Bradshaw family

Part of their British pledge involved growing many of their own fruit and vegetables

So is it possible to buy only British?

The family struggled to find many of the items they were used to. Some could be replaced by something similar, such as substituting black pepper for pepper leaf, but some items, such as batteries and many toys, were just not made in Britain anymore.

This was the main reason, says James, the family could not have stuck to the challenge for more than 12 months. While it was possible to struggle on without batteries for a year, the absence of British-made lightbulbs posed a problem. However, the family managed to get their hands on possibly the last box of 20 British lightbulbs in existence from an old stock seller, as British production ceased in 2006.

As well as the day-to-day challenges of their change in lifestyle, the Bradshaws faced another big hurdle, one which has become familiar to many families since the start of the recession.

“I lost my job halfway through the year,” says James. “This put us in a very different economic bracket to what we were used to. We had to find a new way of living cheaper.”

Luckily, their new lifestyle did just that. The grocery box scheme had cut pounds off their weekly shopping bill, and having to find home-produced goods had got the family thinking more carefully about their purchases.

“We really enjoy it and it has become part of our lifestyle,” says James. “It suits us better than what we were doing before.”

Emily Bradshaw

The family soon got used to buying British ingredients but struggled with some household goods

But it hasn’t all been challenges. The project opened up a great many opportunities – some which they seized with both hands, James explains.

“There have been two sides to it really. The core project was obviously buying British, but the other part is championing British manufacturing and farming.”

This allowed them to visit places such as the Lush cosmetics factory, a harp manufacturer and a number of farms and fairs.

But the highlight of the year was setting up their own event, the British Family Fayre in Westerham, Kent. Put together in just three months, the event was attended by 4,000 people and showcased the best of British. For a normal family, the event was an enormous undertaking.

“We’ve been going by the motto ‘fortune favours the brave’ so far,” James says. And it seems to be working.

“We haven’t had any dramatic failures yet,” he laughs.

After the success of their first event, the Bradshaws also organised a Christmas party in a brewery and have a pop-up restaurant, awards ceremony and another British Family Fayre planned for this year.

“We’re also setting up a charitable foundation, which we hope will be able to give grants to young people in manufacturing and farming,” James says.

In addition, James has recently been involved with the creation of Made in Britain Campaign - an organisation which is producing a certification marque that will help consumers identify British-made goods.

“We saw a lot of individuals doing that and thought ‘let’s put them all together’.”

As a director of the campaign, he is finalising a trading standards description, so we could see the marque appearing on British products very soon.

Made in Britain logo

James hopes the Made In Britain marque will soon become familiar to all consumers

The future

Despite completing their experiment, the spotlight is far from waning. In fact, the day I spoke to James, he had two other national media interviews scheduled.

“The profile of buying British has really grown in the last 12 months, so it’s important that we keep that momentum going,” he says.

Writing their blog - britishfamily.co.uk – is key to that and something James and Emily have diligently maintained during the year. It features all their adventures, tips and plans, but also includes The Britipedia – a directory of hundreds of companies selling British-made products.

The couple were often asked if they did the project because they had a book deal, and the answer was always no.

However, they have now started work on a book and are currently looking for a publisher.

The most important question though: will they continue to buy British in 2014?

“It’s become a way of life,” James says. “We’ve been so lucky to have met so many interesting and passionate people.”

The filaments of the last British lightbulbs in the Bradshaw house will eventually die and be replaced by foreign imports. However, the support from the family and the thousands of people behind British manufacturing means the sector will long continue to shine.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The article ref made in britain. You need to check your list " Top Household brands you might not know are made in Britain" This list is incorrect, for example Hotpoint washing machines are not made in Britain anymore.

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