HELEN WILSON: GROUND COFFEE SWANSEA | INTERVIEW
Helen Wilson was in the process of opening Ground Coffee Swansea, the city’s first plant-based coffee bar. Then, as she tells Carl Marsh, lockdown appeared…
So just before lockdown, you were in the process of setting up a plant-based coffee shop. Where are you now with that?
This is a joint project with Matt Barker-Smith of paddleboarding shop The Sup Hut, on Francis Street, to open Swansea’s first plant-based coffee bar. It’s going to be called Ground Coffee Swansea. It took a while to secure planning permission, but we were ready to go last spring – then the first lockdown hit, and we had to put everything on hold. We managed to make some progress on the interior build during the autumn, but have had to pause again.
As soon as we finally get on top of coronavirus and everyone can get back to normal, we will be ready to get moving and open the doors as quickly as possible. The idea is to serve the very finest barista coffee, with plant milk as default, accompanied by my vegan cakes and little savoury bites.
Seeing as it’s Veganuary, can you tell me a little about your vegan journey?
I have been vegan for 14 years, and before that was vegetarian since the age of 10. I’m now 39 and have spent most of my career working in professional animal rights, as a vegan consultant, chef and educator.
It all began with a love of animals that was forged as a child. I grew up in the Quantock Hills in Somerset, surrounded by animals that my mother had rescued and those in the fields surrounding where I lived. I just realised from a young age I didn’t want to eat them, and the rest is history. Once I left home and went to university, I started experimenting in the kitchen and cooking meals for my housemates.
After several years as a regional news reporter, in my late 20s, I turned vegan and started working for the vegan charity, Viva!, based in Bristol – which was and is still a brilliant place to be vegan. Through that job, I got involved in vegan recipe writing, development, and public speaking. Veganism is just a natural part of who I am now, and it’s easier now than it’s ever been!
What’s a ridiculous non-fact that you have had some non-vegan say to you?
“Being vegan must be so difficult and boring!”; and “It’s my right to eat animals!”
Still, it’s not entirely easy to cut out meat or meat-based products from your life, is it?
I stopped eating meat in the early 90s when the only place you could buy a veggie burger was in a health food shop. You could say it wasn’t easy to give up meat back then. But now, this is not the case. If you love meat but want to stop eating it – whether it be to help the environment, for animals or your health – these days the alternatives are everywhere you go and anything you like can be replaced.
With so many people moving towards a plant-based diet, you can also get loads of help and advice on what products to buy to replace the things you think you’ll miss. Alternatives to bacon, sausages, burgers, sliced meat, pies, pastries, curries – you can bet someone has made it vegan. The important thing is, it may take you a while to transition away from eating meat. Do it gradually, get support, chat to friends, and do try different foods. Giving up animal products will improve your health, help reduce animal suffering and is the most useful thing anyone can do to reduce their carbon footprint. I’d recommend visiting Viva if you want more information.
What is it you do with Viva!, and for the uninitiated, what is it they campaign for?
They’re the UK’s leading vegan campaigning charity, specialising in undercover investigations and high-profile animal campaigns. They were founded in 1994 by my friend and inspiration, Juliet Gellatley.
I’m a freelance writer and recipe developer for Viva!, and host and produce the Viva! Vegan Podcast, which has been running since 2016 – I took over the role last February.
You also do yoga sessions around Swansea…
Since 2013, I’ve run beach yoga sessions by the old Observatory Tower on Swansea Bay during summer. Although I don’t talk about veganism during the classes, on the sweltering and busy nights on the beach I ask my friend Felicity Parkin – of vegan cafe Canteen 18 on Bryn Y Mor Road – to come and host a vegan BBQ after the class. And catering vegan for any events I organise always forms an integral part of the activities. I’ve also hosted several yoga and vegan cookery retreats across Wales.
How many of your clients have adopted the vegan/vegetarian lifestyle?
Several students have been introduced to vegan food through my events and have then explored this for themselves; on the flipside, many vegans who know me for my food have also ended up coming to my yoga classes.
words CARL MARSH photos MARYANNE HALL FOR VIVA!