Alternative Christmas gift guide: buy better, not more

By Nov 17, 2016

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Could a different approach to Christmas shopping make us happier?

It's easy to get carried along by the Black Friday stampede and tempting to take advantage of the bargain fest. But is it worth it? Discounted or not, the opportunity to bring yet more stuff into our lives rarely brings us happiness. There is an alternative: a little-trodden path towards a healthy connection to the material world...

Christmas shopping can be about more than queues, crowds and endless receipts. "If we think about it in terms of our social relationships, what we all ultimately seek is meaningful and lasting relationships and I think that can be applied to stuff," says Ruth Potts, co-author, with Andrew Simms, of The New Materialism: How our relationship with the material world can change for the better.

So how do we avoid mindless consumerism and start building more meaningful relationships with the things we own and buy for others? New materialism, the green movement and the buy social campaign, which encourages people to buy from social enterprises, offer us a good starting point:

  • Buy less
  • Buy social
  • Reduce
  • Repair
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

So when it comes to feeling good about our festive shopping, there are a few choices we can make. We can opt to buy things that will last for at least 10 years or choose products that we know will benefit people worse off than ourselves. We can choose companies that treat employees in the supply chain well and look after our oceans, trees and wildlife.

Around 70,000 businesses in the UK, from chocolate brands to breweries, lingerie stores to babywear shops and housing providers to energy companies offer us this opportunity. Here are just a few that give us an alternative to Black Friday, inviting us to take part in an economy of better not more.


From babies with love sells organic baby clothes and all profits go around the world to help abandoned children.

Valley CIDS provide and deliver a wide range of activities and services in schools and communities from healthy-eating workshops to counselling. Money spent in their Salt Pot Café and Lighthouse Charity Shops, two of which specialise in all things vintage and retro, help fund their work. So grab a bite and find a vintage treasure.

Electronics & homeware:

Emmaus Village Carlton's emporium and furniture shop, run by formerly homeless people, are hidden gems - fantastic places to hunt for vintage prints, furniture and other well-crafted goods. Pop by the Emmaus bistro for coffee and cake afterwards to support a venture that’s helping to get people off the streets and into work. Find an Emmaus community to support near you.

Fairphone is a mobile phone company which aims to reduce electronic waste across the world. Its phones are built to last with repairability at the centre of their design and the company also works to improve the wellbeing of the people working in the factories where the phones are made.

At Reviive CIC (Shrewsbury and Telford) and Burton YMCA’s furniture stores, you can shop for furniture and homeware safe in the knowledge that you’re providing life changing support for local people.

Newstarts (Worcestershire), another place to look for recycled furniture, funds its work supporting homeless people and those in financial crisis by selling upcycled furniture at affordable prices.

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Formerly homeless Emmaus residents work together at the Emmaus Village Carlton bistro


Divine Chocolate was at the forefront of the move towards fair trade in the chocolate industry. Owned by cocao farmers, made for chocolate lovers, Divine brings the chocolate of Ghanaian cooperative Kuapa Kokoo to the UK.

Chocolate & Love is a fairtrade chocolate company, which sources quality cacao beans from cooperatives in Peru, Panama and the Dominican Republic. To offset the paper used in packaging, Chocolate & Love works with to replant trees in areas of deforestation, and has planted 13,687,219 trees to date.

Autism Plus has a chocolate and horticulture enterprise run with the help of people with autism and other disabilities. The enterprise manufactures its own range of artisan chocolates as well as producing bespoke ranges to order. Chocolatiers are ably assisted by co-workers who all have autism and/or associated learning difficulties. Get in touch for more information about their products and workshops: or on 01439 787185.


Pact offers great coffee, seeking out high quality beans and committing to pay at least 25% more than the Fairtrade price every time. It prides itself on being a direct trade coffee company (no middlemen) and also works with farmers to help them get more of their crop to a high standard. Gift vouchers are available for the coffee lover in your life.

Anchor Coffee promises a truly heart-warming coffee stop for the festive season. When you buy food or drink at The Anchor you can simply add a suspended coffee to your order for an extra £2 charge. That money will then be spent on a coffee or food for someone who can't afford it.

Another stop to add to your festive coffee trail is We Walk the Line, which employs people that need a chance including homeless people and ex-offenders. You can buy a suspended coffee here too.


Enjoy a croissant with a conscience, an ethical coffee and some fair trade chocolate

Food & drink:

Belu Water is a bottled water company, which gives all of its profits to WaterAid. To date it has donated £1,531,903 transforming the lives of 102,127 people.

E5. A bakery with a conscience, E5 is powered by renewable energy, always uses organic, locally sourced and seasonal produce and works with local schools, community projects, artists and entrepreneurs. All packaging is biodegradable, all waste is recycled and all bread is lovingly baked at sunrise. Gift vouchers for bread and pizza-making courses are available.

Footprints Family Centre offers quality veg at affordable prices on the doorstep of Buttershaw residents. If you’re based in Bradford, you can go along to their main reception at the Church Centre to do your veg shopping, all are welcome.­

The Freedom Bakery provides employment and training to people who have recently left prison. Its mission is to break the common cycle of re-offending by harnessing the power of flour and offering delicious baked goods to people in Scotland.

One Water donates all of its profits to The One Foundation, which works with charity partners to fund sustainable development projects in the world’s harshest regions. One has raised over £14m in just 13 years and transformed over 3 million lives along the way.

Heron Corn Mill, a beautiful old working mill (that dates back to the 1000s!) sells flour milled in the traditional way, stone ground using water power from the River Bela just like it used to be done in 1740. You can also learn to bake your own bread at the Bread of Heron community bread-making club.

A bit of luxury:

Miss Macaroon CIC offers gift boxes of home-baked macaroons. Baking macaroons with a difference, the social enterprise helps young care leavers not in employment, education or training, offenders and ex-offenders in Birmingham and the surrounding areas back into work through voluntary placements and paid employment.

The Soap Co. creates luxury soaps and employs people who are blind or otherwise disabled or disadvantaged. Every time you use a product from The Soap Co., you are creating opportunities for people with disabilities who create, pack, sell and distribute Soap Co. products with care.

Rubies in the rubble. Delicious, handmade chutneys and jam, made as much as possible from surplus fruits and vegetables, fresh from farms and markets before they’re discarded. An answer to the millions of tonnes of food waste discarded each year.

Accumul8’s 'preserves with a purpose', delicious jams and chutneys are all hand made with surplus fruit donated from people’s gardens and allotments in the local community. Buying a jar helps to fund creative workshops and activities for young people who are homeless.


We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.

Festive days out:

Towcester Museum is the result of years of campaigning for a community museum. It charts the colorful history of Towcester and invites visitors to learn about the genius, beauty routines and savage battles of the Romans. Find out how our ancestors spent Christmas.

Wrap up in your woollies and indulge in winter landscapes and beautiful architecture at The Lupton Trust (Devon), The Glasgow Building Preservation Trust (Glasgow) and the Old Hastings Preservation Trust (Hastings).

Experience a Christmas Family Fun Weekend with a difference at Cromford Mills (Derbyshire), the world’s first successful water powered cotton spinning mill, built in 1771 by Sir Richard Arkwright.


Social enterprise leisure centre Better has a number of ice rinks open to all this Christmas.

Charity Bank borrower Fusion Lifestyle, a charity providing high quality sports and leisure services across the UK is another ethical gym option with an ice rink in Oxford.

You can find a directory of the UK's social enterprises here.

Share the love: Please share our list to support the brilliant organisations featured and the movement towards more meaningful relationships with the things we own #buysocial