Party Kit Network Founder, Isabel Mack shares news of network activity in the last year.
It would be fair to say there have been many ups and downs in 2020. At times the momentum of the network was exhilarating (and almost overwhelming) - at other times I really questioned if there was still a place for the Party Kit Network in the midst of a global pandemic. But looking back, I can see how far we have come this year and I remain hopeful for 2021.
There have been some great highlights in 2020 and many thank yous.
One 'thank you' should go to my friend Amanda Hepburn who does her best to add some structure to my copywriting (the errors below are all mine!) and continues to find ingenious new ways to photograph what is essentially a plastic plate!
Amazing network growth
We celebrated our 250th party kit last Christmas Eve, which was a fabulous way to end 2019. Early 2020 saw lots more party kits joining the network and by mid-March our UK map had a whopping 396 pins!
Party kits joined from all over the UK with new kits in Lossiemouth, Scotland all the way down to the Isle of Wight and later the Channel Islands.
It was an amazing time and it really felt like we were building on the momentum we'd started to generate at the end of 2019. Each new party kit or social media engagement meant we were moving closer to our goal of helping everyone to reduce waste at parties.
Launching the network in Australia
In June I was starstruck when I received an Instagram message from Erin Rhoads. Erin is a zero waste author and the person behind the popular Australian eco-blog, The Rogue Ginger.
Erin loved the idea of the network and wondered if I'd help bring it to Australia. So in July we launched the new Australian network together. Erin's support for my vision has been amazing and I'm so glad she's joined us. Not only does she run her own party kit in Victoria, but she's been key in spreading the word in Australia and building the network there. The response has been so encouraging and we're up to 43 party kits from all across Australia.
Celebrating our first birthday
At the end of June we celebrated the first anniversary of the UK network. Unsure how best to commemorate the milestone, one of our members suggested we make a video together.
I'd never done anything like this before, but party kit owners dusted off their kits and really embraced the idea - and it was good fun! Watch the end result here.
Community Interest Company
In July this year I formally registered the Party Kit Network as a Community Interest Company. This is a type of legal entity which is dedicated to working for the benefit of the community and formalises our non-profit status.
The Party Kit Network CIC wants a future with less waste. We aim to prevent tonnes of plastic and paper partyware entering the environment and landfill by supplying party organisers with access to an alternative. We want to raise awareness that reusables can be easier, cheaper and a lot more fun!
Joining me on the board:
Dian Sofia, active zero waste campaigner and founder of Zero Waste Near Me. Dian partnered with me when the network was just a spark of an idea.
Cheryl Harpin and Sara Collick, who each run successful party kits in Cheltenham and Dorset. By pure conscience they both joined the network on the very same day back in July 2019.
Vibeke Fennell, my friend and frequent muddy playdate companion. Vibeke is also a partner in a successful Finance Services consultancy which seemed like a good area to get covered!
And my mother-in-law, Julie Savage who has always championed my projects and is the queen of process management.
I am also very grateful to the following people for their advice and support in turning my vision into a reality:
Fiona Sanderson and Tracey Ward from Miss S for answering my many questions.
Michelle Nitz from HoneyStone Accounting for offering to do our end of year accounts.
Boomy Tokan from the School of Social Sustainability for his helpful Zoom seminars.
Sara Quayle from Sara Quayle Safety for offering members discounted Health & Safety training.
And my sister Juliet Coveney who used her first furlough to review our policies and help with the CIC application.
Spreading the word that reusable is best
Lots of people have supported us this year to help spread the word about the party kit concept. This is not a complete list, but some of the highlights:
Emmeline from PlasticFreePartyBags.com, who kindly sponsored flyers as well as continuing to champion our mission.
“The Party Kit network is one of the most inspiring initiatives I have come across recently. It’s everything a zero waste initiative should be - practical, economical and joyful. I believe the potential of the Party Kit network in reducing waste is phenomenal”
Impact of COVID-19
No review of 2020 would be complete without mention of the pandemic. It has impacted almost every aspect of our lives including how we gather together.
As the news of the COVID-19 pandemic grew increasingly alarming it became clear that we would be packing away our party kits, some of these kits before they'd had a chance to go out on their first hire.
I cried the day I packed my own kit away even though I knew this was for the best. I was sad for the little ones who would miss their party this year, I was fearful of what was to come, and I was nervous for what this might mean for our fledging community.
But some amazing stories started to come out from our members because, as well as running a party kit, many are key-workers in their day job. So while their kits have been packed away, they have been working hard as teachers, NHS staff, carers and other key roles. Instead of sewing bunting and pass-the-parcel bags, sewing machines were used to make much needed scrubs and face masks. In addition, others joined community action groups to support neighbours during this difficult time.
With no events, weddings or parties, the main income of many of our party kit owners has been badly affected by the pandemic. Sadly some businesses have been forced to close, which is just heartbreaking.
There have been a few rays of sunshine as party kit owners have reinvented their businesses or embraced new starts. Jay from Party Peeps in Bristol may have packed away his party kit for now, but he has successfully taken his party business online hosting hundreds of virtual parties - (if you have a lockdown birthday coming up please do check out his website). And when Emma's events management work dried up, she embraced her creative side to set up The Felt Studio making beautiful felt garlands and floral displays.
Funding network costs
The Party Kit Network does not charge party kit owners any membership fees or take any commission from paid-for hires. This is because I really believe in the ability of party kits to make an environmental impact. I want to support those who invest time and effort in running a party kit for their local community.
The annual network running costs are low. This is because I can do much of the work myself (or at least with help, including from my friend Tom Evans who rescues me when I inevitably break the website).
To date costs had been covered via kind donations and the income from hires my own party kit. However, with very few hires this year due to COVID restrictions we needed a temporary way to raise funds to cover ongoing costs.
During the summer I discovered the children's storybooks by Ellie Jackson. Not only are these books beautifully illustrated, they are a perfect fit for our environmental message. With invaluable support from network members we sold enough of these storybooks to fund the network for the rest of our first financial year. I'm very grateful to Ellie for all her support.
I'm grateful to my mum for her collection of packaging. This meant I could continue to support my mission of promoting reuse when sending out the storybook orders. Some of the more vintage envelopes dated back to the 1980s!
Looking ahead to 2021
It's hard to say what 2021 will bring as pandemics and parties aren't the best combination. Certainly, with much of the UK is facing tougher restrictions post-Christmas, it does look like many party kits will be packed away for some time yet.
But there is a glimmer of hope with the news of vaccines, and so perhaps we will be partying again before the end of the year. In Australia the news has been more positive with party kit hires possible in many places this summertime, which has been lovely to see (albeit from afar).
This year the Party Kit Network will be a champion for the One Earth Show, an event coming to the NEC Birmingham in October. They aim to make sustainable living more accessible with stands, talks and workshops all about how to reduce our impact on the planet. It will be exciting to be a part of this event and reach more people with our message about reusable party kits.
In the meantime we will continue to build the network so when it is finally time to safely party again we will be ready!