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 How Buddhism Led to High Street Evolution - Cambridge News, UK

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PostSubject: How Buddhism Led to High Street Evolution - Cambridge News, UK   How Buddhism Led to High Street Evolution - Cambridge News, UK EmptyThu Jul 04, 2013 7:28 am

How Buddhism led to High Street Evolution
Written by JENNY CHAPMAN - from the Cambridge News in the UK

He is happy and contented. He is the managing director of a company turning over £11m and his salary is £15,000.

“I live simply, it’s all I need,” says Mike Silver, 49, who heads a team of 250, around 90 at the Windhorse headquarters off Coldhams Lane in Cambridge.

Windhorse, which is a wholesaler of gifts and housewares, started in London’s Bethnal Green in 1980 and has always been a Buddhist organisation.

“We moved to Cambridge to grow and to start Buddhist activities in Cambridge,” says Mike, who joined Windhorse 27 years ago, straight from an economics degree at Manchester. “There were just 10 of us then and I came for a few weeks.” Three years ago he became MD.

I had my first sight of Windhorse a few weeks ago when I went to talk to Victor Jameson, who runs the organisation’s lettings business, New View. He showed me the warehouse, the size of which has to be seen to be believed, and in the middle of it all is a Buddhist shrine, just to remind people what it’s all about, and as a place for meditation and chanting.

The Windhorse Buddhists – most of the people who work there follow the faith – are members of the Triratna Community, a westernised style of Buddhism devised by an Englishman, Sangha Rakshita, who went to India to study the religion and returned to this country to make it more accessible to westerners.

Mike says it has now been adopted worldwide, not least in India.

“It feeds in on what we are doing,” he says, “right livelihood, which is one of the main teachings, and is about ethical trading.

“We have tried to take it a step further, using work as a spiritual practice – this might take a bit of unfolding – it’s about developing awareness, clarity and passion, and an insight into the nature of things.

“We find that working together we can support each other as Buddhists, experimenting with team-based right livelihood. We have lots of different teams and they support each other with friendship, encouragement and helping to get to know yourself.”

Ethics, meditation, wisdom, insight, these are the common parlance at Windhorse, where there is an astmosphere of calm and the most delicious aroma permeating the offices, which turns out to be the vegetarian lunch everyone will sit down and enjoy together.

Windhorse started as a wholesaler, buying and selling in the UK, and then began importing, from China, Bali, Thailand, Guatamala. The aim is to help the communities from which goods are bought, and Windhorse has built schools in Guatamala and in Bali, the latter for disabled children.

In 1988 Windhorse started opening its own shops – there’s one in Fitzroy Street in the city – and now has a chain of 18 “Evolution” stores, with plans to grow.

The retail side of the business accounts for more than 50% of the £11m turnover, with the wholesale side selling to small independent gift shops and homeware stores, garden centres and larger chains such as Oxfam.

“We want everything to be ethically traded,” Mike says, “we want to be sure there are good workings conditions where the goods are made and we have built relationships with these communities.”

They have also built up the Buddhist community in Cambridge and have bought a number of houses where they live in small groups. Mike lives in Herbert Street with half a dozen others: “We meditate together in the mornings, eat together, there is a strong element of sharing.

“Our order is semi-monastic, but does not distinguish between those who live in families and those who don’t. In Buddhism there has been a big distinction between monk and lay, and the founder of our order felt that everyone could practise.”

Among the city houses Windhorse has bought is Abbey House, one of the oldest homes in the city, built 400 years ago. Windhorse also owns what was the old Festival Theatre and adjoining Georgian house in Newmarket Road, where meditation, yoga and Buddhism are taught. Anyone can go there, Mike says, and what has proved popular recently is “mindfulness-based stress reduction”.

Business has not been quite so brisk during the recession years, but Mike has projects lined up, including becoming a distributor for other people: “We have the capacity in the warehouse.” Capacity being a not-too-bad 64,000 sq ft.

By this coming Christmas a website will be up and running for online sales.

“We are not a co-operative,” Mike says when I ask how the business compares with other enterprises, “but we are slightly different from an average business. We try to operate in a consensual way. There is a high level of trust and people are very generous with themselves (what they give). We have a very flat wage structure, we live on very basic wages, depending on need, some people in the warehouse will be getting more than me because they might have a family to keep.”

Not a bad way to go about your business.
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PostSubject: Re: How Buddhism Led to High Street Evolution - Cambridge News, UK   How Buddhism Led to High Street Evolution - Cambridge News, UK EmptyThu Jul 04, 2013 2:15 pm

Yes interesting.
I have bought from them in the past for our shops, it was OK no problems we dont buy now,as we do not sell that type of product in a recession.
Also interesting the last time I read about Windhorse it was scathing I can not remember why, but I think it is a recurring sexual theme that bubbles up from time to time,I have not seen any one from the organisation for 40 years!
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