Robin grew up amid awareness of the vital part that healthy, organic food plays in our wellbeing.
It’s a lifelong commitment which is stronger than ever for him now that he is at the helm of a family firm dedicated to organic and ethically-sourced produce, although he didn’t initially think of it as his future career.
The connection stemmed from his childhood when his parents moved to Sussex from the Channel Islands in the early 1980s.
His father, John Walden, became a director of Seasons, a shop in Forest Row which had been established by a local Quaker farmer, Diana Philips, who recognised a real need in the community for healthy, organic foods.
“I was two years old when we came to Forest Row, so I was always aware of my father’s job,” Robin says. “You couldn’t help but notice delivery drivers turning up on a Sunday morning, for instance.
“I grew up with it, but things were quite tough then. My father would work very long hours, so doing that kind of work didn’t inspire me. When I was 14, I started doing weekend work in a nearby bakery.
“Back in those early days, the shop was owned by a charitable trust, and I had no inclination to work there. The trust had been set up with excellent intentions by the lady who founded it, but that doesn’t always work out in the long term. A big management group can mean that it doesn’t move forward; it stays stagnant. It just didn’t inspire me.”
Robin had always been artistic and creative, so he went to college to study art and design and was also making music.
“I wanted to get into music, and in return for working part-time at the bakery, I had the use of a room above it which I used as a little recording studio,” he says.
“I was there as security for the building, mainly, as I could be there in the evening. And sometimes I’d have to take things out of the oven, like fruit cakes which take a long time to bake. It worked out well for me.
“I put on some music nights in Brighton, but mostly, I was making electronic music. Then I was asked to do the music for a play in Paris. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but the next thing I knew I was involved in rehearsals and I worked there for a couple of months.
“The play proved quite successful and went on tour for a year around France and Switzerland before returning for a run in Paris in a beautiful theatre opposite the Eiffel Tower.
“It seemed quite surreal that from Forest Row I’d gone to this magnificent Parisian theatre with a 20-foot marble staircase and golden statues along the side. It took me out of my comfort zone, but I think you have to challenge yourself.
“It was a great experience, and the royalties from it were amazing and enabled me to pay off my credit cards and put together a deposit for our first house.”
Robin went on to work in the food industry, initially in a bakery then for Pizza Express where he became regional head chef for the area before joining Trading Boundaries as chef and manager.
In 2012 his father, a long-standing director of Seasons, bought the business and a few years later Robin joined. Since then he has progressively developed it, taking it into the 21st century.
“I tend to be very full-on at everything I do,” he says. “I’m at work all day, and at night I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t get much time for music now, but I have a little studio in my garden and often sneak out for a couple of hours at night.
“My wife Lisa and I have two lovely girls, 10-year-old Amy and Beth, who is seven. The studio is a distraction, a place where I can switch off a couple of times a week from work, kids and family. And I do have a couple of pieces of music going out soon on a friend’s record label.”
Seasons is now very much a family business. Lisa, who is a book-keeper, does the accounts, and although John is semi-retired, he continues to look after the fruit and veg buying side. Robin’s mother also steps in occasionally to help in the shop when it is short-staffed.
For Robin, Seasons is a lifestyle choice, and everyone who works there shares his passion for biodiversity and offering customers the very best quality and ethically-sourced items.
“We stock over 5,000 products, working with many like-minded producers who also believe passionately in quality products that don’t cost the earth,” he explains.
“I am passionate about organic and believe it is essential that we push it, raise awareness. We can’t keep on killing the soil biodiversity by putting so many chemicals into it. This ties into all kind of different things in life, so we also believe in using ethical banks, insurance providers, phone companies – we like to stick with people who are doing the right thing.
“I appreciate that it can be difficult for people to go completely organic, but we tell customers that they don’t have to be exclusively organic, that every little change does help. Because I’ve always worked in the food industry, I like to pass on my knowledge on how to use various foods, suggesting recipes for them.”
As Robin says on the Seasons’ website, ‘Why not make a pact to replace just one of your everyday products each month with an organic one instead. Be kinder to yourself, your wildlife, and create an overall healthier planet.’
The Seasons shop in Forest Row has a very warm and friendly environment, a relaxed place where Robin and his staff are always happy to talk, give advice or give people the help they need, making it a social hub of the community. As well as being a magnet for vegetarians and vegans, it attracts a diverse clientele who want to enjoy healthy food.
Now the business is taking the next step, by setting up shop in Lewes, due to open on September 20.
“It’s a really exciting time as I’ve wanted to have a shop in Lewes for the past couple of years,” Robin says. “Our new premises are a lovely old former hardware shop on Cliffe High Street, and although it’s going to be very modern inside, we’re keeping all the beautiful woodwork outside.
“We know the demand is there, people in Lewes want it, and the feedback has been positive. When our carpenter has been working on the exterior, sometimes up to ten people a day have been stopping to talk to him and wanting to know more about what we do.” •