Sara gets a rather super bike – MITIE Revolution post no.2

15 May 2013

Dubble‘s Sara Barron with her second post as she prepares to cycle 180 miles this weekend with Mitie Revolution and goes to Condor Bikes to pick up the bike they are lending her for the event….

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect at the Condor shop this morning. I’ve never been ‘fitted’ for a bike before. It was actually quite physical. More like being at the osteopath’s than a bike shop. Once I’d stretched and rolled my head around, James had the task of talking me through various adjustments, gears and body positioning. We established that I had wonky shoulders and longer than average legs (I never heard that before!) although I wasn’t sure if the size of the seat was an indication of being larger than average in other areas.

James at Condor sorting out a bike for me

James at Condor sorting out a bike for me

Once fitted, Claire checked my tyre pressure and attached my bottle cages. I was intrigued to hear about the history of Condor as she worked on the bike. They design all of their bikes in London as they have done for the past 60 years, and they continue to produce all of their frames by hand in Italy. It struck me and how akin the values of Condor  and Divine Chocolate actually are – basically, no compromise on quality or ethics in favour of cheaper products.

Claire took me through the last few items on my checklist. We talked about the merits of various performance gels (baffling) and soon established I wouldn’t need any given the banana fuelled pit-stops along the MITIE Revolution circuit. She gave me a supply of inner tubes and a multi-tool and with some good luck well wishes I was sent on my way. With the bike!

Despite the fact that I REALLY hate cycling in the City I managed to navigate my way safely from Gray’s Inn Road, along Chancery Lane and Cheapside and over London Bridge back to the office. I have to say that I’m over the moon with the Condor Italia in my possession. Claire couldn’t have picked me a better partner and I’m itching to get to know it better on a more familiar and quieter ride along the Thames when I head home this evening.

Sara with her Condor near our offices

Sara with her Condor near our offices

Our Divine cyclist at Revolution this weekend – post no.1

13 May 2013

Sara Barron (Dubble HQ Online and Product Manager here at Divine) is getting ready to complete the Revolution ride this weekend – here’s her first post….

Sara Barron before the upgrade!

Sara Barron before the upgrade (the bike I mean)!

When Tal told me about Divine’s sponsorship of the Mitie London Revolution cycle ride this year my ears pricked up. But when she asked me if I wanted to do it as one of Divine’s ‘keen cyclists’ my initial thought was ‘Am I?’. Yes, I cycle to work every day come rain or shine and yes I love it but I’ve always thought of myself as a commuter rather than a cyclist. I actually avoid roads and other cyclists as much as possible on my commute along the Thames Path from Greenwich to Tower Bridge. I don’t own lycra shorts or any other cycling gear, apart from a helmet and some toe clips (which my husband bought me for Mother’s Day). And my bike is only still roadworthy due to the constant vigilance of my husband who frequently disappears into his shed with it and emerges with something that doesn’t squeak and feels 10 times more comfortable to ride. But even he declared it ‘unfit for purpose’ when I floated the idea of a 180 mile bike ride past him.

Tal brushed these reservations aside and told me to go ahead with my training programme, get the necessary gear and she would sort out a bike. Low and behold a collection of parcels of new equipment – including lycra shorts – are piling up at home, and today our lovely friends at Condor Cycles told us they have a bike ready for collection which they are generously loaning me for the summer. Incredible!

Lizzie at Mitie London Revolution  took care of my last minute registration, and so here I am on Monday afternoon with the prospect of a 180 mile bike ride ahead of me at the weekend. That too is incredible!

I have a knot in my stomach. I can barely contain my excitement at the prospect of completing this iconic circuit on an iconic bike. But so far the extent of my hill climb training for Box Hill (which despite my commuter mentality I’ve always had a secret passion to cycle) has involved a few circuits of Greenwich Park and Croombes Hill en route to work. A sense of competitive determination to finish the course in a decent time and enjoy the ride is bubbling up. I’m just hoping my old bike is the only thing that’s ‘unfit for purpose’.

A meeting of co-operatives – The Co-op and Suma visit Kuapa Kokoo

13 February 2013

Here’s Divine’s Wendy Rowan reporting on her first trip to Ghana:

Saturday 19th January

We left a snow bound London to arrive in Accra at 10.30 at night with the temperature at a humid 32 degrees. The heat just hits you, right there, at the back of the throat, taking your breath away. Immigration procedure was long and tortuous in the non air-conditioned airport terminal – embarkation cards completed, signed & handed over, iris recognition image scanned, finger prints taken, yellow fever inoculation certificate checked. Our driver was waiting in arrivals and we sped away for our first night in Ghana at the Airside Hotel. 

Lots of these little chaps at our hotel

Lots of these little chaps at our hotel

We were a party of five – myself and my colleague Alistair Menzies from Divine Chocolate, Jenny Dixon and Rachael Gray from The Co-operative and Jenny Carlyle from Suma, the wholefood wholesaler worker’s co-operative in Elland, Yorkshire.

Sunday 20th January

Sunday morning we were up with the cockerels and breakfasted in the Zara restaurant. A splendid buffet catered for everyone’s tastes and offered a delicious choice from fresh pineapple & papaya to rice and spicy beef curry.

Today was going to be a leisurely day visiting tourist attractions and making our way to Kumasi, Ghana’s second city. We were collected by our drivers who were going to accompany us on the whole trip – Enoch, Joe and Abdulai.

The forbidding door leading to a holding room for slaves at Elmina Castle

We set off westward to Elmina Castle. Built by the Portuguese traders in the late 1400’s, the castle was built to protect the gold trade. But following its capture by the Dutch in 1637, it came to serve the Dutch slave trade with Brazil and the Caribbean. The Castle housed luxury suites on the upper levels for the European governor, traders and soldiers. The slave dungeons below were cramped, dark and filthy cells housing up to 600 men and 400 women at a time. The governor could look down from his balcony on to the courtyard where the women slaves would be lined up and he could choose his companion for the night. At the seaboard side of the castle was the infamous “Door of No Return” through which the slaves passed through one by one to board to waiting ships that would take them on a treacherous journey across the Atlantic. Over three centuries it is estimated that 60 million slaves were captured with only 20 million surviving capture, imprisonment and the journey to the New World. We all knew something about the slave trade but to see where the slaves were imprisoned in dark, dank, squalid conditions brought home the true horrors endured by Africans for three centuries.

We continued 4 kilometres from the coast to the Hans Cottage Botel where we stopped for lunch. Holiday cottages and a restaurant situated in a lagoon which is home to crocodiles, turtles and many birds. Although the crocodiles are said to be friendly, we weren’t going to risk getting too close and stuck to taking photos from behind the safety of the wall.  We were however, very adventurous with our choice of food and all opted for the Ghanaian traditional fayre of beans, rice and fried plantain. And very tasty it was too.

A big smile from the croc

A big smile from the croc

Next stop was the Kakum Rainforest National Park. Here a 40m canopy walkway suspended between trees gives a breathtaking view of the forest. We shared the experience with a group of ladies and gents in their Sunday best – men in their brightly coloured printed shirts and the ladies beautiful in their colourful traditional African dresses. And with a gaggle of giggling Ghanaian girls on a church trip out to the forest wilds all dressed up in their trendy, western Sunday best. A 20 minute climb through the moist & humid forest, passing indigenous trees which were hundreds of years old and accompanied by the sounds of cicadas brings you to a wooden platform. From here you step on to the walkway – a narrow wooden plank suspended by rope and netting and underpinned by a few steel bars. At the circular tree house there was a choice to be the adventurer and do 7 more walkways or take it easy and do just 3 more or as I did, take the scaredy-cat option and go back the way we came and get on to terra firma as soon as possible. Exhilarated after our adventure, it was then back on the road for the 4 hour journey to Kumasi along the “B” road – a long and winding dirt road, deep rusty

Kakun Aerial Walkway

Kakun Aerial Walkway

red in colour with plenty of pot holes. Either side of the road was forest vegetation – plantain, banana, papaya and palm trees and road side vendors selling their home-grown produce – water melons, pineapples, oranges, lemons, coconuts and freshly fried plantain chips. We passed villages with unstructured layouts bustling with activity and always with a cleared level area for the football pitch with goal posts either end. We were happy to at last to arrive at Kumasi and check in to the Rees Hotel, where we could revive our hot & dusty selves. We ate in the hotel that evening a mixture of European and Ghanaian dishes.

Monday 21st January

Refreshed and well rested, we met up early morning for an unusual breakfast – spring onion omelette with cold baked beans and 4 triangles of barely toasted, sweet white bread. Surprisingly tasty.

Collected by our trusty drivers we headed from the hotel to Kuapa Kokoo offices where we met up with Francis who was going to be our translator and Vincent who was in charge of taking photos & video recording. Kuapa Kokoo is the co-operative of cocoa farmers who grow all the cocoa which goes in to making Divine Chocolate – and own 45% of the company.

The ancient capital of the Ashanti kingdom, Kumasi has a population of 1.5 million and judging by the gridlocked roads, the same number of cars. It took time and patience to drive out of the city, the roads noisy with horns tooting and nose to tail with yellow painted taxis, motor bikes, seriously large 4 by 4’s, tro tros – the Ghanaian equivalent of the mini bus, with passengers sardined inside and outside packed high with all their belongings  – goats included tied to the roofs.

The city sprawls on forever with a ramshackle shanty town – dwellings fronted by trading posts selling everything from car engines, doors, coffins, beds, carpets to all manner of electrical appliances. And all along the carriage way are street sellers offering their wares to the hot & frustrated drivers – bags of cooled water, refreshing coconuts, snacks, pieces of  water melon, handkerchiefs, sim cards, loaves of bread, all displayed beautifully in baskets and bowls carried securely and proudly on the head.

Here we all are at Amankwatia

Here we all are at Amankwatia

Eventually the landscape changed to a more rural setting and we turned off the main road and arrived at Amankwatia village. In 2010 to celebrate 5 years of sourcing cocoa from Kuapa Kokoo for their own label Truly Irresistible range of chocolate, The Co-operative co-funded with Kuapa Kokoo the building  of a new Junior High School. Jenny & Rachael from The Co-op were here to see how the school was doing and how it was benefitting the 13-19 year old students from Amankwatia and the surrounding villages. We were welcomed in to the village with singing and hand clapping by about 50 cocoa farmers who had given up their time to greet us. We were introduced to the Recorder Samuel Antwi, the society secretary, the village chief who was also a member of Kuapa, and Adwoa Asianaa he oldest cocoa farmer at 83 years- a feisty lady who looked half her age and who had harvested 20 bags of cocoa that season –   and the youngest at 42 years. As well as the school, the benefits to the village for being members of Kuapa Kokoo and co-owning Divine Chocolate have been the installation of a corn mill, solar panels for electricity, and machetes for each farmer – a vital tool for the harvesting of cocoa. And an opportunity for the women to learn new skills to supplement their income – tie dying and soap making with the cocoa pod husks.

Jenny from Suma learns how to crack open a cocoa pod

Jenny from Suma learns how to crack open a cocoa pod

We took a short walk out of the village in to the forest where the cocoa trees grow amongst the orange and papaya trees. It’s near the end of the season and the weather has been unseasonably hot but there were still pods ripening. We were shown how to harvest a cocoa pod – with care and diligence so as not to damage the trunk, how to slice it open with the machete and remove the beans. We all got a taste of the sweet white flesh surrounding the bean. The farmers work as one team, harvesting, fermenting and drying the beans together going from one farm to the next in what is known in Twi as “ Nnoboa” – you help me and I’ll help you & let’s work together. Having read how it’s done, seen the films on how it’s done, and heard the farmers tell me how it’s done, it was wonderful to actually be part  of the harvest and an honour to be presented with a freshly harvested, weighty cocoa pod.

Returning to the village we met the school’s headmaster and were introduced to the senior class. The students were shy

It's really useful to have a bike

It’s really useful to have a bike

so what better way to break the ice than to ask them to do a bit of Azonto dancing for us! Two willing dancers soon got the class clapping and laughing. On a more serious note, one of the students, 19 years old and luckily still in education, said how much he would love a bicycle to make his 6 mile journey to and from the school a little easier. Many of the students come from neighbouring cocoa growing villages and the time it takes for the journey impacts on their learning time.

Time to say our goodbyes and thank the villagers for their hospitality with gifts of Co-op T shirts, pens and pencils for the students and soaps for the ladies.

On route back to Kumasi we stopped off at the regional depot where all the sacks of cocoa are delivered, weighed, recorded, graded and then loaded on to a truck for shipment to the port of Tema. Rachael from the Co-op, in her role as technical & quality manager was full of praise for the efficient and accurate traceability systems in place.

A dinner hosted by Kuapa staff and members of the Farmers Union was a lovely end to a fabulous day.

Tuesday 22nd January

In the morning we went to the Kuapa Farmer’s Union offices where Esther presented the history and mission of Kuapa Kokoo to give us a first-hand understanding of the workings of the co-operative. We also had the pleasure of meeting members of the NEC – National Executive Committee, the elected members of the farmer’s union. It was a pleasure to meet up with old friends – Elias Mohammed who had come to the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight in 2012 and who I’d had the honour of accompanying around Scotland, and Fatima Ali who I had been with in Cardiff in 2011.

IMG_1253We then headed off to New Koforidua, a village which serves as a centre to a community of 5,200 people. Here the school was funded by the Fairtrade premium and the community house was funded by The Co-operative. The community house serves as a meeting place, library and conference centre. We were welcomed by Walter Alifo, the headmaster and driving force behind the success of the village, and cocoa farmers from the villages and all the students. New Koforidua is a fine example of the benefits of Fairtrade as it is not only twinned with Garstang in Lancashire, the first UK Fairtrade town but is also calls itself the first Fairtrade village in Africa. Important visitors are given the honour of planting sapling cocoa trees outside the community centre – trees planted by  Brad Hill from The Co-operative in 2010 and Sophi Tranchell the MD at Divine Chocolate in 2012 are growing tall & strong. Now the honour fell to Jenny from Suma to plant her sapling. May all the trees flourish and produce a good harvest.

It was photo opportunity time with students putting on this year’s Comic Relief Red Noses and posing with giant Dubble bars – and throwing Divine chocolate coins up in the air to encourage everyone in the UK to “Do Something Funny for Money “ this Red Nose Day.  

We had also been given books to distribute which written & illustrated by the students from Surbiton High School. These were very well received and the students were full of admiration for the wonderful illustrations. We lunched under the shade of the trees and admired the village, the school and community centre. And then it was time to say our goodbyes and head to Kumasi airport and on to the winter cold & snow of the UK.

Women welcoming us to Amankwatia

Women welcoming us to Amankwatia

I have worked for Divine Chocolate for nearly six years and during that time have met a few of the cocoa farmers on their visits to the UK during Fairtrade Fortnight and have heard their stories, and learnt a great deal about cocoa production and the global cocoa & chocolate industry. Actually visiting Ghana and seeing for myself how Fairtrade and farmer-ownership have improved the lives of cocoa farmers at first-hand has been an enlightening experience. Seeing the benefits of trading fairly and investing in the health and education of the next generation has made me more determined to make sure Divine is the chocolate bar of choice for all of us chocolate lovers.

A gathering in the world of chocolate

28 November 2012
Sophi meets one of her brand heros - Boyd Tunnock

Sophi meets one of her brand heros – Boyd Tunnock

It’s good to have a forum where everyone in the chocolate business can get together and share knowledge and discuss issues. So it was great to be invited to speak at Kennedy’s Chocolate Network event – organised by Angus Kennedy, owner of Kennedy’s Confectionery magazine – fantastic to see a great mix of big and small in the audience – from Nestle & Barry Callebaut to Elizabeth Shaw and House of Dorchester.  Sophi Tranchell, Divine’s MD, agreed to talk about “Why should cocoa farmers carry on growing cocoa?” – a Divine perspective on what will incentivise a future generation of cocoa farmers, and how that is key to maintaining a supply of good cocoa in the future as demand for chocolate grows around the world.

It was inspiring to hear the stories from other independent companies like Willie’s Cacao (Willie Harcourt-Cooze told his story of the farm he bought in Venezuela) and the iconic Scottishbrand Tunnocks,  (Boyd Tunnock still runs the company which sells 5million of its famous caramel wafers every week, with a distribution to die for). You can hear the passion in their voices and total immersion in what they do.

The event finished with some startling psychological insights about the habits of different kinds of chocolate eater, and Angus Kennedy (dressed in a purple Willy Wonka coat with a chocolate flower pinned to the lapel) giving his predictions for 2013, ending with a reminder that chocolate enhances sexual stamina.  He said he himself has five children to prove it!

The best part was catching up with friends and colleagues – Malachy McReynolds from Elizabeth Shaw, bloggers MostlyAboutChocolate and Chocablog, sampling some fabulous hand-made chocolates made with California raisons by William Curley – and then best of all Sophi having her photo taken with brand hero Boyd Tunnock (who kissed her hand very gallantly and invited her to sail on his boat!). 

We went home very happily with a goodie bag containing a huge selection of chocolates – still exciting after all these years !

Fast cars, wild women and Divine Chocolate – it must be Norway

23 October 2012

Latest post from Sophi Tranchell:

New Friends Fair Trade shop in Mathallen Oslo

New Friends Fair Trade shop in Mathallen Oslo

Last week I was in Norway for the DLF (the Norwegian food trade body)  50th Anniversary Conference.  The theme was sustainability.  One of the morning speakers drove into the auditorium in a red  Koenigsegg.  I don’t know what it had to do with sustainability but apparently it’s the fastest car in the world – I wasn’t sure how to follow that!  In the evening they had a grand dinner with entertainment, the highlight was Katzenjammer,  a raucous band of women playing a fusion of folk & rock.

Arriving at Oslo Central station the next day, I was delighted to find the full range of Divine small bars in three different shops and even the florist was selling beautiful bunches of Fairtrade roses and Divine chocolate hearts. 

Onto the newly opened Food Court Mathallen  where Friends Fair Trade have a fantastically located stall near the entrance selling the full range of Divine gifts and bars.  I gave a presentation telling the story of Divine Chocolate and the farmers in Ghana who grow the cocoa and own the company.  After a delicious lunch we were given a guided tour of the food court, a cornucopia of food from around Norway to tantalize the taste buds, I would certainly recommend it to anyone visiting Oslo.

Divine gifts at the Friends Fair Trade shop

Divine gifts at the Friends Fair Trade shop

Back to the Friends Fair Trade  shop to discover a whole world of Fairtrade, as well as everything Divine has ever produced, Pants to Poverty, towels from Gossypium, hoodies from Epona, Dr Bonners Soap, tea from Hampstead Teas and Clipper, coffee from Cafedirect, and a massive range from Traidcraft.  They definitely get the prize for the biggest range of Fairtrade marked products any where in the world!

Who is your Divine Olympian?

23 July 2012

A topical post from Sophi Tranchell (MD of Divine)

Sophi watches Doreen Lawrence being handed the Olympic Torch in Lewisham 23rd July 2012

Sophi watches Doreen Lawrence being handed the Olympic Torch in Lewisham 23rd July 2012

In many ways the Divine spirit is very like the Olympic spirit – a little player, succeeding against the odds, and winning hearts and changing minds.

So I’ve been thinking about which Olympian exemplifies Divine spirit ?

Daley Thompson was for a long time my hero when he won the Decathlon Gold Medal in Moscow. I had saved up my money to attend the games having watched every televised moment of the Montreal Olympics, and drawn pictures of each event.  And he wasn’t alone. It was a good year for the British; Coe and Ovett brought home the Gold in 800m & 1500m, our fabulous flying Scotsman Alan Wells won the 100 metres, and Steven Redgrave began his 20 years domination of the rowing.

But the Olympic spirit is about so much more then winning. The Jamaican bobsleighers celebrated performance in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary was an unlikely story but certainly embraced the team spirit.

Eric Moussambani Malonga – Eric the Eel

And there was Eric the Eel’s (Eric Moussambani Malonga) valiant performance in the Sydney Olympics, where his time was twice that of his fastest competitor, but he won our hearts and set a new personal best and Equatoguinean national record.  That’s the point of taking part and what makes the Olympics, despite the controversies and commercialisation,  a fantastic, exciting and heart warming event.

So does Cathy Freeman’s celebration of winning the 400m in Sydney, where she waved both the Australian and the Aborigine flag, acknowledging their joint history.

Wilma Rudolph (centre) - Olympic winner

Wilma Rudolph (centre) – Olympic winner

But Wilma Rudolph gets my Divine nomination.    She was the 20th of 22 children born in Clarksville, Tennesse. She had a leg brace until she was nine and they said she would never walk properly.  But against those odds she went on the shine in Rome, winning three Gold medals in the 1960 Olympics 100 metres, 200 metres and 100 metre relay.  When she returned to her home town which was still segregated, she insisted that the civil reception was mixed otherwise she wouldn’t attend.  Her story seems still untold, but it is the story of how change happens through the determination of spirited individuals who collectively make a difference.

That is how Divine is here today, and how the farmers who grow the cocoa have finally been acknowledged and got a place at the table.

Let us know who your Divine Olymipan is – either post it here on our blog – or on Facebook

Christmas comes to Kuapa

22 November 2011

Francis Frimpong

Francis Kwakye Frimpong (of Kuapa Kokoo Ltd) posts on Christmas traditions amongst the members of Kuapa Kokoo:

Amanfe, in the Brong Ahafo region, can be described as a typical settler farming village with land size of about 220 square feet. 300 people live there, mostly farmers. Out of this number, over 45 are Kuapa members. About 650 bags of cocoa are produced at Amanfe.

On my recent visit I talked to people there about how they celebrate Christmas. I first met up with the leader of the community, Nana Asamoah Yeboah, himself a Kuapa member, who said their Christmas season starts on the night of December 24th when they plant a ‘Christmas’ tree, build a hut around it out of palm leaves,  and decorate the hut with flowers and balloons.

Early morning of 25th December is dedicated toremembering relatives, friends and other members of the community who have passed on to the next world. This they do by pouring a libation. Afterwards, the elders make toasts in schnapps andother drinks before they attend church services. They do all this to commemorate their dead ones.

 The children are ushered into the festive mood when the family returns from church. The parents and other relatives give them treats of balloons, minerals, biscuits and toffees to enjoy.

The merry making continues the following day, 26th December – a day dedicated to cooking ‘extra-ordinary’ foods fit for the occasion. Some of these dishes are sent to the homes of loved ones and vice-versa. Rice and fufu,with goat or chicken meat are the commonfoods enjoyed by the community during the Christmas festivities.

In celebratory mood (image by Elizabeth Hudson)

26th December is also the day when the children put on their best clothes to visit relations and family friends in other villages. At times, the children are accompanied by the parents during these visits as they too use the opportunity to exchange fraternal season’s greetings. 

Madam Mary Yeboah another Kuapa members in the community added that preparation for Christmas starts way back in October when the new cocoa season is declared open by the government.

According to her, as soon they receive money from the sale of their cocoa, deductions are made as to how much they would re-invest into their farming and children’s education, the rest is used in purchasing items that would be needed to celebrate the yuletide.

Asked to name specifically some items they buy in advance for Christmas, Georgina Kumi Afari mentioned sardines, eggs, chickens, biscuits, oil, rice, yams, cloths, materials as some of the items they buy ahead of the season.

On the menu for Christmas? (Image by Kevin Gould)

In a year that they don’t produce much, the farmers cut short their celebrations and return to the farms on the 27th which is supposed to be a holiday, but only in a year that they get maximum returns; theday is observed as a rest day by the whole community.

Amanfe community,  like most communities in Ghana also use NewYear’s day to adopt resolutions after church service. Among some of their NewYear resolutions are; measures for improving their farms, improvements for children’s education, new businesses and projects they intend doing in addition to their farms.

On a community level, Amanfe has been able to build its own school for their children’s education and  a clinic which still needs staff at the moment.

Their aim for the coming year is to build teachers’ quarters and also to acquire good clean drinking water.


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