This is why Portsmouth's milkmen are making a comeback

Milkman Keith Adams out on his round.
Milkman Keith Adams out on his round.
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In years gone by, it was the norm to wake up, open the curtains and see the milkmen of Portsmouth, darting about on their daily rounds.

Everyone had a bottle coming to their door – two or three if you were doing well for yourself.

Ayrshire cows on Northney Farm, Northney Road, Hayling Island. Picture: Allan Hutchings (160147-247)

Ayrshire cows on Northney Farm, Northney Road, Hayling Island. Picture: Allan Hutchings (160147-247)

But as the supermarkets expanded and commercial conglomerates started dominating our high street, the humble milkman found himself searching for work elsewhere.

By the turn of this century, almost all of them had gone.

Only now, the tides are turning back in their favour.

As we have become more environmentally aware, and taken a genuine interest in where our food comes from, milk delivery has seen something of a renaissance in the past few years.

Tim Pike with ice cream produced by his Ayrshire cows, at Northney Farm, Northney Road, Hayling Island. Picture: Allan Hutchings (160147-228)

Tim Pike with ice cream produced by his Ayrshire cows, at Northney Farm, Northney Road, Hayling Island. Picture: Allan Hutchings (160147-228)

Keith Adams, 46, who works for Milk and More, based in Chichester, has been a home delivery roundsman for 18 months. He covers Portsmouth and surrounding areas – up the A3 corridor to Waterlooville and as far as Hambledon. 

His working days tend to actually start the night before, beginning at 11.15pm. Keith says: ‘I have to sort my order out and by midnight I’m out to do the deliveries all through the night up to 7am.

‘I sleep twice a day, first of all from 8am to midday, and then from 7pm to about 10.30pm.

‘Compared to my previous job, even though I work at night I see more of my family than I did before this way.’

Keith worked for 25 years in the catering industry, running restaurants and bars and working in hotels – so to him, this is a completely new industry.

‘It’s quite a nice change to be home in the afternoon,’ he said. ‘And this job involves fresh air, which I have not had before at all. And even though it’s at night you feel you are involved with the public.’

Keith hasn’t stumbled across any late-night drama on his rounds yet, but said: ‘There are a lot of hedgehogs!

‘I see hedgehogs and foxes all the time, they are everywhere. I must see 20 to 25 a night  – I never realised how many people put out bowls of water for hedgehogs  – you see them all the time.’

On average Keith delivers 380 bottles of milk a night, as well as vegetables and other items. He drives about 60 to 80 miles in his van, which is electric, and as Keith says ‘is also helping the environment’. 

In the past few years, the number of homes he has delivered to has skyrocketed, as people start to take more of an interest in what they’re putting in their stomachs.

Crucially, Keith says, it’s a passion for helping the environment that really matters to them.

‘Since people watched the Blue Planet programme it has taken off,’ he explains. ‘There's been a rise – it’s phenomenal, all the more so as I have only been there for 18 months, but it’s been a big increase.

‘People I know who were on plastic bottles have switched over. Each bottle gets reused a minimum of 25 times, whereas plastic is used once before it can be recycled. Since one of the television programmes went out we had 20,000 new customers registering online.

‘The other rise is in our deliveries is organic – not just organic milk, but organic fruit, vegetables and cereals. We deliver carrots, potatoes, blueberries, granola – all organic.’

This isn’t a trend limited to Portsmouth either, as Milk and More reported a surge of 75,000 new customers in the past year.

Of those 75,000, 90 per cent are also asking for their milk to be delivered in glass bottles, rather than in plastic.

But it’s not just domestic deliveries that are on the up either.

Over at Northney Farm on Hayling Island, more than 2,000 litres of milk are being transported to businesses every week.

Tim Pike, who looks after the farm’s milk deliveries, says summer is always the busiest time of the year.

‘There are a lot of coffee shops in the area that are taking deliveries, but we also help to make a lot of ice cream,’ he explains.

‘Recently we’ve been seeing more and more local companies taking an interest in getting milk from nearby. Lots of these places want to know exactly where their milk comes from now –  as well as how it’s made.’

Northney Farm’s milk isn’t homogenised, which means the cream floats to the top rather than being mixed throughout. And that suits Hampshire’s coffee shops and ice cream makers rather well.

Mr Pike says: ‘The milk works well for coffee shops in Portsmouth, like Southsea Coffee – they tell us that it makes their coffee taste better. When it’s not homogenised it’s a bit creamier I suppose.

‘The amount of milk leaving the farm seems to increase every week. It’s a combination of shops taking more of an interest in local produce, but also individuals taking a stand environmentally.’

But as well as the benefits to the environment, the improved taste and satisfaction of knowing exactly where your milk comes from, it seems there is also an essence of nostalgia to the resurgence. Sadly, that doesn’t mean people are getting to know their milkman again – in fact, many wouldn’t even recognise Keith if he passed them in the street.

‘It’s old-fashioned – but it is making a comeback,’ he said. ‘I speak to the people who have been doing this job for a crazy number of years – 30 or 40 years – when you would be delivering to every other house on an estate, and then their children were looking to carry on.

‘But the sort of customers who are coming on board now are young families – as the deliveries are overnight they are ordering for their breakfast and it is there when they wake up. We are now more like a doorstep grocery service than a traditional milkman.’

From the doorstep to the shops… and back again

Once you have had your milk delivered, and it’s been poured into a cup of tea or bowl of cereal, there is still plenty of life to be found in the bottle itself.

For people living in the Portsmouth area, a quick drive or ferry ride over to Hayling Island will find you near Stoke Farm Fruit Shop in Havant Road.

Here, you can get a bottle – both glass and plastic – refilled with a new pint of milk.

A recent study conducted by GlobalWebIndex showed that 82 per cent of people in the UK now value sustainable packaging.

Tim Pike, from Northney Farm, said: ‘It’s brilliant; all you have to do is wash out the milk bottle when it’s empty, and the guys at Stoke Farm can refill it for you.

‘Part of the price is for the bottle, so this works out cheaper.’

Delivery going nationwide

Having milk delivered to your door is not a trend that is simply making a resurgence in Portsmouth.

In fact, the whole country is starting to take an interest in having a milkman come to their door each morning – with a growing pride for local, environmentally-friendly produce.

Milk delivery companies such as Milk and More are not only seeing an increase in customers, but also a shift towards being

greener.

The firm says that a staggering 90 per cent of new customers prefer the traditional glass bottles, which are apparently being reused around 25 times.

Deputy CEO of Milk and More, Andrew Kendall, says: ‘It’s clear from our record-breaking new customer figures that more people than ever before are looking to make changes to their lifestyles to live more sustainably.

‘It’s great that we can help our customers achieve this goal.

‘Our new research shows that aside from having milk delivered in glass bottles, people also want to reduce the plastic packaging on fruit and vegetables, which is why our organic fruit and vegetable range uses no pointless plastic and 97 per cent of its packaging is recyclable or compostable.’

Tim Pike, from Northney Farm on Hayling Island, backs this up, adding: ‘The chance to refill your used glass bottles is something people really seem to like.

‘In the past few months they have definitely become much more popular, which is great news for the planet.

‘Hopefully we’ll see the end of plastic milk bottles in the future.’