There was a time when it was unnecessary to give a dessert menu to Gavin Murray; it didn’t matter what form or flavour – hard or soft, exotic or everyday – to know Gavin was to know he had a thing for ice cream.
“I’ve always loved ice cream, but then who doesn’t?” says Gavin (48), director of Derby’s first not-for-profit, ethical ice cream brand Just-ice. “I got hooked on homemade ice cream thanks to my dad. He used to make ice cream every year in flavours like butterscotch and coffee. I remember him having to get up in the night to stir the bowl so it didn’t develop ice crystals. It was gorgeous.”
Gavin’s transition from ice cream fan to ice cream man began when good friends bought him an ice cream making machine in 1999. “I loved all ice cream but Ben and Jerry’s ice cream was a special favourite and the gift came with a recipe book,” Gavin explains. “I’d make it every couple of months for occasions like birthdays. I experimented with flavours like mocha, maple and pecan and I used fresh fruits like raspberries and strawberries. It must have gained a bit of a reputation because, when I donated some as a charity raffle prize, the top bid was £40.”
Perhaps this explains why, on a perfectly ordinary day in his kitchen, Gavin found himself making an ‘out-of-the-blue’ declaration to wife Sally. “I just told her that if I was to open a shop, it would sell ice cream and the business would help the survivors of trafficking,” he says. “For years and years, we’d supported Hope for Justice, an organisation whose mission is to put an end to modern slavery. I told Sally and she said ‘Oh, we could call it ‘Just-Ice.’ That’s how it all started.”
The ‘all’ involved in starting a business from scratch led to a massive life-change. The couple, along with their three teenage children, had lived in London for twenty years and Gavin was working as a minister for Morden Baptist Church. “If we wanted to launch the business, and really help people, we realised we couldn’t run it alongside Gav’s church commitments,” Sally (49), a physiotherapist, explains. “It was a make or break moment as the family house came with the post. But we decided to take a leap of faith. Life is short and, as someone coming up to 50, I knew we’d regret it if we didn’t follow our dream.”
The couple decided they needed a fresh start in a new location.
“All roads seemed to lead to Derby,” Sally laughs. “Gavin visited a pub called the Derby Arms and we were watching Pride and Prejudice on the TV, which is set in Derbyshire. We came up to Derby in February 2017 and met with the Marketing Derby team as we were looking for a shop. We were shown a large vacant space in Derby Market Hall and it just made sense as the rent was reasonable and we could make and sell our ice cream there.” Even so, there was still work to be done taking the dream to reality; “It’s amazing what you can get done with the help of Google and a bar of Green and Black’s chocolate,” Sally laughs. “One of the priorities was joining Social Enterprise UK. Becoming a member puts you in touch with a network of other businesses and we were really encouraged by other people’s stories. Plus, we were able to source things from other social enterprises like NEMI tea, a business which supports asylum seekers and refugees.”
Gavin, Sally and the family moved to Derby in August 2017, cheered on by their friends from Morden. “They gave us so much help and support,” Sally says. “Before we left, our friends presented us with Fairtrade aprons bearing our company logo. Another came up to Derby for the day to just to wallpaper our stall. A friend who runs Rachel Joy Lettering re-designed our branding for free to make it more exciting and fun.” Sally smiles at the memory; “We try to make everything we do about family, friends, fairness but, above all, about fun. Yes, we want justice for some of society’s most vulnerable people and yes, it’s a dark subject but there is joy – not just in the making of our ice cream but in helping someone gain their freedom.”
The family were overwhelmed by the help they received in Derby; “We joined St Werburgh’s Church in Derby and we were invited up to tell our story,” Sally recalls. “We told them we were setting up a not-for-profit business to help people trapped in human trafficking and to support Chance for Childhood, a charity which helps child soldiers. After our talk, we ended up with a fantastic bunch of volunteers. The Murrays were also approached by another member; “A man said he’d been really moved by our story and offered to make something for us,” recalls Sally. “Incredibly, he made ice cream trikes. That’s how we acquired ‘Wilber’, named after William Wilberforce the politician who helped to abolish slavery. He’s since been joined by a gifted horse box called Rosa, after Rosa Parks, which we take to outside events.”
The Murrays were finally ready to open for business on March 31 2018 – or so they thought.
“We inherited money from a great aunt to buy ice cream making equipment but the first time I came to make a big batch, I had to ring Sally in a panic. I’d followed my normal recipe for homemade ice-cream and produced scrambled eggs,” recalls Gavin. “Our wafer supplier was with me at the time and he was able to spot that, because I use a high percentage of cream, the commercial machine was churning it too fast and I was basically making butter.” This glitch was soon corrected in time for opening. “We had a grand launch for around 200 people, including guests from Leicester, London and even the Cotswolds,” says Sally, a fellow director who works for the business on a voluntary basis.
“We put different flavours in paper cups and asked for a rating out of ten – and for the testers to be brutally honest. Afterwards, we did tweak our chocolate recipe as some people said it wasn’t chocolatey enough. It went from 50 per cent to 70 per cent organic Belgian chocolate. Now it tastes like a frozen chocolate bar – it’s divine.” Thanks to the success of the evening, word soon spread; “Every time we gave a talk about modern slavery and told people about our ice cream, they promised to come – and they did,” says Sally. “We decided to open six days a week as we didn’t want anyone turning up to find we were closed. We had a hugely busy first year and – as one of us is always at the stall with a volunteer – we had trouble making time for ourselves. On the plus side, we were able to pay Gav a salary and employ someone to run outside events.”
The couple have also been able to help a survivor of trafficking, re-located to the city by a local charity called Rebuild, to gain paid work. “People who have been trafficked don’t want sympathy – they want experience to put on their CV and the stability and routine of work,” Gavin explains. “Our end-game is to have a Just-ice franchise in every town helping hundreds of survivors but, for now, it’s all about helping one person at a time.”
What’s wonderful for the people of Derbyshire is that ‘helping’ can be done in the delectable form of eating Gavin’s ice cream which oozes goodness in every way. “At first, people gave us lots of advice about using cheaper ingredients like flavourings rather than fresh fruit,” says Gavin. “We couldn’t do it. Yes, it takes longer to crack a hundred eggs every morning rather than throw some powder in a bowl but we want to do it right. If we put profit margin over quality it wouldn’t be as much fun and we’d have less satisfied customers.”
The customers are more than satisfied. Most of the people who dropped by during the course of the interview have become friends and their first question is often about new flavours.
“Since we’ve been open, I’ve made between 60 and 70 varieties and stock 18 at any one time,” says Gavin. “I try to make the ice cream as seasonal as possible, I ask my kids and customers for flavour suggestions. One of the popular flavours is pistachio but some like it smooth, some crunchy – and they don’t meet in the middle so I make both on rotation. It’s also one of my favourites and I love citrus flavours in the summer.”
As to Derby’s favourite Just-ice flavour, surprisingly it’s not vanilla; “We deliberately put our vanilla in the fridge so we have to fetch it and, while we wait for it to come to serving temperature, we ask people to try a spoon of something else like honeycomb or salted caramel,” Sally smiles. “Derby customers loved our rum and raisin ice cream, perhaps because we soak the raisins in Jamaican run. Sadly, Derby City Council said as our ice cream contained more than 0.5 per cent alcohol we’d need an alcohol licence. We can still serve it at licenced events like weddings. It always goes down well.”
Which brings us back to Gavin and his life-long passion for ice cream. It is safe to assume making litres of it every day – and testing every batch – has put him off. “Not a chance,” he laughs. “I’ve become a little bit of an ice cream snob but I still enjoy a whippy at the seaside. The only thing that’s changed is I’ll ask for the dessert menu and I may choose something other than ice cream – occasionally.”