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Small business owners unite to launch virtual marketplace

Julie Childs, one of the founding members of the Orkney Virtual Shopping Mall.

A group of local craft makers and small business owners from across Orkney have come together to create a virtual Christmas market.

Traditionally, November’s and December’s calendar would be chock full of opportunities to pick up some handmade Orkney goods from all over, with parishes, towns and islands hosting a variety of craft fairs.

However, lockdown is proving quite an obstacle to this type of sales event, which would typically draw hundreds of folk into a community hall in a single day. So what were Orkney’s small business owners to do, in what would usually be one of their busiest seasons?

Glass artist Julie Childs and Louise Leask of Eco Happy Orkney, recently launched a Facebook group dubbed the Orkney Virtual Shopping Mall. The aim is to bring together small business owners and craftspeople across the county, and give them the opportunity to market their products in time for Christmas — as well as raise money for charity.

“We have had a phenomenal response,” said Julie.

“This is a virtual mall in Orkney, with sellers and shoppers here to basically showcase and sell their products and services in one busy hub.”

In just a matter of weeks, the group has close to 4,000 members.

“I am overwhelmed with this amazing response and it shows there is a huge demand for this,” Julie added.

“The sellers are already trading on the group which is fantastic!”

Members of the group hope to run a series of virtual shopping weekends, in the run-up to Christmas.

As well as providing a much-needed boost to business owners in what looks to be a challenging winter season, the virtual mall is also helping to raise money for good causes.

“This is a free group to join, and all we ask is for business owners to donate one of their products to be raffled,” Julie explained.

“All proceeds from this will go to a different charity each month.

“There’s such a great, fun atmosphere with lots of banter — just what we needed after all these months of worry with the pandemic!

“It’s safe shopping in the comfort of your own home, but you can chat away too. It’s a busy friendly hub with a fantastic atmosphere!

“My co-founder, Louise Leask, and I feel proud that we’ve have given our sellers a way to get through these hard times whist helping to keep the economy strong in Orkney.

“We now have shoppers far and wide buying our produce!”

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