AN ecological entrepreneur who started her business at the kitchen table has triumphed to win the title of Sustainability Hero at the CREST21 Business Awards.

Bare + Fair, the zero-waste retail business that Mel Hemmings started just over a year ago from her home in Woking, made her the judges’ choice for the category at Surrey’s first sustainable business awards, which were live-streamed from The Lightbox gallery last week.

Mel’s win lands her a place on one of the University of Surrey’s week-long master’s level modules through its highly prestigious Centre for Environment and Sustainability.

Bare + Fair was inspired by the Zero Waste movement and launched off the back of Mel’s efforts to reduce her family’s plastic use and live more sustainably. Frustrated in attempts to find viable eco-friendly alternatives locally, she set up her own zero waste retail business.

She swiftly moved from her kitchen table to a stall at Woking Market, and in lockdown was running a free local bicycle home delivery service of refills. Support from the local community helped her to create a zero-waste pop-up shop to keep going during the coronavirus pandemic and it has now expanded into a permanent shop in the town.

In a spin-off from the pandemic, the business teamed up with a local dressmaker to offer locally-made cotton face masks with at least 50% of profits from the sales going to a local charity. Mel has also worked with schools and local community and business groups to give talks and presentations sharing information on what zero waste means.

The CREST21 Business Awards were founded by the News & Mail, in association with the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES).

Postponed last year because of the pandemic, the event went ahead last week in a hybrid format, with some attendees at the Woking venue but most joining virtually, drawing a wide audience who registered to be part of the awards and see presentations from speakers who included Joanna Yarrow, former head of sustainable and healthy living at IKEA, Ian Christie, senior lecturer at the CES and Ruth Nic Aoidh, an executive director at McLaren Automotive.

“This has been great and we definitely want to stay connected with the CREST Awards,” said Ruth, who provided an impactful insight on the kind of research and development McLaren is making to reduce carbon emissions alongside more sustainable work practices.

Local Cllr Kevin Davis, who presented the Transforming Food award on behalf of sponsors Planet Woking, said: “This is such a good initiative because we want businesses to be inspired by what they can do to reduce the impact of climate change.”

Sarah Butcher, head of membership for Surrey Chamber of Commerce and one of the event judges, said: “The day went really well and The Lightbox provided the perfect backdrop for the live streaming of the CREST21 Awards. We’re really pleased to have been able to support this event.”

Her thoughts were echoed by Deidre Richardson, industrial doctorate manager for CES: “It’s just been marvellous. The university has been so pleased to have worked on this and the awards went so well.”

The quality of entries to the awards, and diversity of businesses looking to make a difference to the environment with a range of enterprises, sparked optimism for a more sustainable future.

“It’s been inspiring to discover all the many ways that so many businesses are focusing on social and environmental sustainability,” said Carol Miller, who envisaged the concept of the awards more than two years ago, and was thrilled to see the event finally taking place.

Given the calibre of entries and the interest from local businesses, all eyes will now turn towards May next year to see who will make a difference for the future of our climate and community and achieve a place on the awards shortlist for CREST22.

For more on this year’s winners, get the 27 May edition of the News & Mail

Efficiency Champion Award

Winner: Pennypot Day Nursery

Runners-up: Tannery Studios; Mesh Energy

Resilience in Crisis Award

Winner: Silent Pool Distillers

Runners-up: PlantPassion; Surrey Care Trust

Sustainable Impact Award

Winner: Mesh Energy

Runners-up: Redbox; Pennypot Day Nursery

Transforming Food Award

Winner: Binary Botanical

Runners-up: Eden Greens Urban Farm; HOP

Going Circular Award

Winner: Silent Pool Distillers

Runners-up: Instant Swim; Bare + Fair

Sustainability Hero Award

Winner: Bare + Fair

Commended finalists: PlantPassion; Pennypot Day Nursery; Binary Botanical