A five-year-old activist has inspired Britain’s oldest independent shoe store to sell its first-ever vegan footwear.
Harry Bidewell, who has been described as ‘the UK’s youngest vegan activist’, has motivated a 230-year-old footwear business The Golden Boot to place an order for its first vegan school shoes.
The young campaigner from Maidstone, Kent, who has been vegan for just over a year now, visited the store with his dad to purchase his first ever pair of school shoes.
Much to the store’s surprise, he asked if they were made from animal products.
And after the apologetic shop assistant said they only stocked leather goods – the manager went out of their way to find vegan shoes for Harry before he started school.
His dad, Mark Bidewell, said: “I have been going to the Golden Boot for years – it’s amazing – the oldest independent shoe shop in the UK.
“We went in to get Harry’s feet measured for school and Harry asked the man assisting us if the shoes were vegan.
“He responded, a bit baffled, and said ‘I’m really sorry we don’t do vegan school shoes, these are made from leather.’
“We asked if he could source a pair for us, he could’ve very easily said no, but he didn’t – the manager subsequently invested a lot of time and effort and ordered some vegan shoes in for us.
“They arrived just in time for school and embody everything Harry stands for – protecting animals, the planet and the high street by supporting local and independent stores and a like-minded family business.”
When Harry was just four, he tried the 31-day Veganuary challenge with his mum, and the two have continued on their plant-based journey ever since – with Harry fighting for what he believes in in more ways than one.
Harry’s parents, Jenna, 37, and Mark, 44, run a 46-year-old family business, ‘Made By Bison’ that focuses on creative design, printing and graphics.
When discussing what inspired Harry to make the shift to veganism, Mark said: “We were watching TV one day and it was a Saturday cooking show that featured stuffing a chicken.
“Harry turned around and said ‘That’s not kind’.
“This started to become more frequent to the extent that every time we walked past the meat aisle in the supermarket he would literally say “not kind, not kind, not kind.”
“Jen wanted to try out Veganuary anyway, and Harry decided to do it as well – it just made sense to him.
“We have always been an open family, when we talk about things we are very truthful and say whether something comes from an animal or from the ground.
“Harry is clear on what he likes and doesn’t like, he’s been a fussy eater but never a big fan of meat.”
Since going vegan, Harry has established his own non-profit organisation named Vegan Squirrel, and one day hopes to run his own electric vegan ice-cream van.
The name partly came from Harry’s love of the children’s cartoon programme ‘Hey Duggee’ – Mark said: “We have called him ‘squirrel’ since the second he could walk – it’s his thing.
“The vegan part of the name came about as Harry uses the word vegan so much – through the adventure of spotting ‘vegan’ labelled produce, it was literally the second word he could read after his own name.”
The little entrepreneur, who also loves chess and karate, has been a hustler like his dad from a toddler-age – and his business venture first began with fresh carrot juice that he started selling on to friends, neighbours – and eventually his nursery.
Mark added: “Harry has always been interested in business adventures – so when we bought a juicer around May last year, Harry started making fresh carrot juice, and we started selling it to local neighbours, friends and then to his nursery.
“Harry used the money he made from the sales to gift an actual juicer back to the nursery and they are now growing carrots in the garden and kids are juicing them, the pulp goes back into the compost – it’s brilliant.”
Under his Vegan Squirrel brand, Harry has been selling his own products like hats, stickers and notepads and any money he makes is given to various vegan charities and animal rescue centres, such as The Retreat Animal Rescue in Ashford.
This particular animal sanctuary costs £800 a day to run and that is Harry’s current motivation – he will soon have funded one day of 365 and hopefully encourage others to do the same.
When asked what Harry wants to do with the money he makes, he said: “I want to give the money to save the planet and the animals.”
Harry said Veganuary “was really fun, I got to try and enjoy so many different colourful foods and recipes I’d never tried before.
“Vegan Squirrel is my little business and is all about being kind and having fun. I make fresh carrot juice that I sell to my neighbours, friends and family to make money.
“My teachers at nursery have also started buying my juice which is really cool and I now have other things you can buy too.
“Daddy asked me what I was going to do with the money and I said I wanted to use it to help the planet and save animals.
“I want other people to have fun and join me on this adventure. Be kind. Have fun!”
Harry has not only made positive physical changes like vegan shoes, but has also sparked important conversations at his old Nursery, Pennies Day Nursery, and his new school – Bearsted Primary Academy, in Kent.
Mark said: “Harry has inspired the nursery to offer more plant based options at the nursery, to celebrate Veganuary across their three nurseries and the word ‘Vegan’ has become more normalised both there and at his new school – where he has only been for three months.”
Toni Vernelli, international head of communications at Veganuary, said: “We are delighted that Harry had such a great time during Veganuary, and I am so proud that he has not only stayed vegan but become a vegan campaigner, too – perhaps one of the youngest in the country!”
“It just shows that veganism is for everyone, and it can change lives for the better whether that person is four or 94.
“Well done Harry, and huge congratulations on your first anniversary as a vegan.”