Behind the Scenes with Vegan Squirrel

A national newspaper described Harry Bidewell as “The UK’s youngest vegan activist”. At five years old, Harry has his own vegan merchandise and juicing business called Vegan Squirrel whose motto is: Be Kind. Have Fun.  Lisa speaks with Harry’s dad Mark to find out how Harry brought together both business and activism at such a young age.

www.vegansquirrel.com

Harry decided to go vegan after doing Veganuary in 2021 whilst still at nursery – how did the nursery handle catering for a vegan four-year-old?

When we checked if the nursery did Vegan options the response was: “Yes, we can add him to the ‘special diet’ list”. The response somehow felt both accommodating yet derogatory at the same time! Probably the hardest moment was when I picked Harry up one day and the carer said that one of the other kids brought in some birthday cake but Harry couldn’t have it because it was not vegan. But whenever this happens now, Harry proudly says “Dad, I said no thank you and it helped the animals” and we make a point of getting him a better cake or treat to celebrate his commitment. 

There were several other innocent but careless moments that happened at the nursery, so I reached out to the marketing manager Natalie with an offer to personally invest my time and money to educate them on veganism and work with them on an awareness campaign across their three nurseries. 6 months later they piloted a plant-based menu and had seventeen children sign up for it.  Fast forward to January this year and they have done Veganuary across all of their nurseries with a compulsory one day per week 100% plant-based menu.  Harry also donated a Vegan Squirrel juicer that they now use to teach children how to juice instead of just offering dairy milk.  

Obviously, Harry needs a bit of a helping hand in running a business at the moment but how much of Vegan Squirrel has been down to Harry himself? 

My business BISON Print Ltd is a second-generation company and my mum and dad are my heroes.  Family business is in all our blood so that obviously influenced Harry starting young.  One of my closest friends once said to me “you’ve got seven years for kids to grasp the idea of making money and then it’s too late”. It always stuck with me and it’s rubbed off on Harry too. At three and a half years old, Harry used to pretend to have an ice cream van and ask for money for the mud creams he’d made in our garden. In 2021, my wife Jen and I were bottling up some of the juice we’d made and Harry said “we could sell this and get some money” and that was it!  We were off making juice, first for friends then the staff at his nursery wanted to buy some. At this point I asked my Head of Creative at BISON to come up with a brand for Harry and recommended he watched some vegan documentaries as part of the brief.  Matt was completely bought in and presented his designs to Harry as if it were to one of our clients – it was amazing!  Harry really enjoyed it and picked the design himself. 

 

Everyone has been amazed at Harry’s story.  He was even invited to open a local vegan coffee shop and received a signed note from F1 driver Nico Rosberg.  What does Harry make of all this attention?

Harry loves helping the animals and the planet and loves the interaction that comes with it, especially when it’s with other children. Last week we were delivering some Vegan Squirrel merchandise to someone who was local and he got upset because he didn’t get to meet the child, just the parents! He’s the only vegan at his school so we try to take him to events where he can connect with other vegan children. He’s also a five-year-old mind you, so like any child can have cracking tantrums every now and then!  But personally, I love seeing Harry not being afraid to ask someone for money for something he is selling and then want to use that money to help animals.

I love seeing Harry not being afraid to ask someone for money for something he is selling and then want to use that money to help animals.

Childhood veganism is starting to gain attention with children’s TV even hosting their own vegan cooking shows. Do you think a young vegan activist makes a bigger impact than an adult?

Children explaining veganism to other children 100% has a bigger impact, but some adults can be put off because they think the child has been forced to do it. But at the other end of the scale, others see it as social proof that being vegan might not be as bad as people say and that times are changing.

There are so many children who would go vegan but they don’t have the support of their families. For example, I overheard a girl in the supermarket tell her mum that she didn’t want to eat the meat they were buying and wanted to have vegan meals instead. Her mum flipped and said it was a stupid fad and that you need to eat meat to stay healthy. Parents are rightly concerned about their children’s health but need educating and I think more needs to happen in schools so teachers can support children’s curiosity. Because of our experience with Harry turning vegan, we took the decision when his sister Poppy was born to raise her vegan from birth. She’s now 14 months old and is one happy and well-nourished vegan foodie!

 

Vegan Squirrel isn’t just a gimmick, it’s raised hundreds of pounds for good causes including The Retreat Animal Rescue in Kent. Was it important to also teach purpose not just profit to Harry?

Yes, yes, yes and yes. Purpose, honesty, integrity and kindness should always lead making a profit. 

Harry has learnt how to hustle with a kind heart. At a very early age he grasped the concept of delayed gratification and some core values like trust and respect. Vegan Squirrel supports Harry’s passion. This is an opportunity for Harry to enjoy learning life skills at an early age and hopefully inspire more young squirrels to join the movement. 

Despite this though, Harry is still five years old and we don’t want to rob him of his childhood – he’s got toys and his Nintendo and leads a very fun and active life. 

So, what’s next for Harry and Vegan Squirrel?  We get the feeling this might only be the start…!

Only yesterday I was telling Harry about a vegan pizza company and he said “why don’t they do Vegan Squirrel pizzas and put my logo on it?”. We also want to help inspire other children – for example, Harry loves making Batman-shaped tofu using a cake cutter so we have imagined a fly-on-the-wall cooking programme about experimenting and having fun and adventures to inspire other children to do the same.

We also want to get more awareness into schools and nurseries to normalise vegan and plant-based lifestyles and hopefully we can find a positive way to do this using the Vegan Squirrel brand. We have a saying at home: “We don’t say no without trying”. So if Harry comes up with business ideas we’ll always try them. Jen and I feel it’s good for him to both experiencing winning and learning the hard way because there’s no such thing as losing – just winning or learning!

Oh yes, and don’t be surprised if you see Harry flogging Vegan Squirrel ice cream in a little electrical ice cream van sometime soon too. After all, when a little child’s dream, passion and purpose all align something magical might happen!

Learn more about Harry and Vegan Squirrel at: www.vegansquirrel.com

Learn more about Bison (Mark’s print company) here: www.madebybison.co.uk

Lisa Fox says:

Harry’s story shows that the vegan movement is safe in the hands of the coming generations. Many vegan businesses express an uneasiness with making profits, worried that it’s unethical.  But Mark has taught Harry that there can be purpose in profit at a very young age.  It’s an important lesson, not just for life but for business, and I expect this won’t be the last we see of both Harry and his dad!

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