As a native New Yorker of Polish origin, it didn’t take cosmopolitan Natalia Jejer long to notice that something wasn’t quite right in Bridgeton, her new home district in the East End of Glasgow.
Even with the obvious regeneration in the city, endemic issues still persist around Glasgow’s health and wellbeing. Life expectancy in Bridgeton and in the surrounding areas is almost as low as it gets in Scotland.
Natalia says: “It wasn’t until I moved to Bridgeton that I understood the issues that the local community is facing. Basically individuals and families living on a tight budget, with limited skills and limited knowledge and limited access to quality food. I started looking at the local heritage where food production used to be massive in the east, but it’s no longer here.”
She noted how prominent soft drink production used to be in Glasgow, and the rich heritage in the East End in particular – A.G. Barr of Irn Bru fame started here, alongside Dunns and many smaller manufacturers.
Using this knowledge as her starting point, Natalia created Bottle of Ginger, a soft drinks producer and social enterprise where all profits go straight back into local food and drink initiatives.
The aim of Bottle of Ginger is to raise money through sales that will be put back into the local community to help alter consumption habits and improve understanding of how quality drinks are made, in comparison to mass-produced fizzy drinks.
It’s certainly necessary given some of the statistics Natalia quotes: “The consumption rate of soft drinks can be used nowadays as a sort of geographical indicator of inequality. In Bridgeton, we consume the highest amount of sugary soft drinks per person, per day [in Scotland]. Somewhere around 230g, twice the national average. So really this statistic is the tip of the iceberg and what is underneath are more complex socio-economic issues. That’s what the community is facing.”
As Natalia points out, politicians’ plans for a sugar tax “is merely sugarcoating the problem” and that people are still going to consume these drinks unless something is done to change long-standing habits and effective education is provided about what they do to our bodies.
This is where Bottle of Ginger hopes to intervene as a community drinks company, whose aim is to change local juice culture by getting the community involved and to help change those habits that detrimentally affect the area.
Natalia says: “We’re redefining the product and also the process involved. What we’re focusing on is launching our ginger beer, the start of the commercial side of Bottle of Ginger, and we’re now beginning to involve the community.
“Our intention this year is to launch three drinks, starting with ginger beer, which is something that’s been developed by looking back at the heritage and looking at natural fermentation – going back to soft drinks as they were before mass production and over-processing.
“There’s also a berry-based drink that’s going to be made in collaboration with the CCA, Company Drinks and a group of local women here in Bridgeton. So really what we’re trying to do is explore the berry-picking heritage of the East End, like families used to do when they went berry-picking in Blairgowrie for months at a time.
“With this project we’re hoping to address the disconnect between the rural countryside and the city and how food is viewed. Getting people involved in picking the berries, making the drinks, and seeing that heritage.”
Bottle of Ginger is also hoping to launch a local cola with a small group of volunteers who’ll create the drink from start to finish. Although they operate out of a small office and kitchen in Bridgeton, they also have a large growing tunnel, run in conjunction with the Urban Edge collective.
Using the tagline ‘forage, farm, ferment’, they aim to get the community involved in the growing and foraging process, sourcing ingredients, the design of the packaging and deciding on distribution.
Using crowdfunding, they’ve already managed to raise an initial start-up sum of £5425, far surpassing their initial target of £3500, a clear and early indicator that they have the will of the people of Glasgow and Scotland behind them.
Natalia is understandably delighted as this is money that can go straight into the community and start the ball rolling in a meaningful way.
She says: “We’re trying to create a best case scenario to allow people to see what’s out there, what’s natural, understanding nature better and where foods come from. At the moment there are no projects in Bridgeton that are open to the community in this way. It’s about opening the door and getting local people interested.
“Our long-term ambition is to have this sort of community manufactory. There was something quite special about the sense of community that was attached to these old manufacturing places, with canteens and social clubs, so we really see it as potential for community growth.”
For more information on Bottle of Ginger, go here