Thinking outside the box when protesting can produce dramatic results, as one group of campaigners has demonstrated.
Retailers and residents campaigning against the development of a new Sainsbury’s Superstore in Stoke Newington, North London, took their fight to a new and eye-popping level last month when they organised a ‘Zombie-a-thon’ outside a Sainsbury’s Local store on the high street.
After organising a petition which gained thousands of signatures, speaking out at public meetings and developing a comprehensive website and Facebook page, the group decided to try a more dramatic way of making their dissent for the proposed 24,000sq ft supermarket and underground car park heard.
“We wanted to do a public protest, but were keen to go down something other than the placard route, which is great on the day, but forgotten the next,” campaign manager Andrew Harrison told C-Store.
“Seeing as we believe that this development would herald the death of many of our treasured independent stores, we thought that getting those retailers and local residents to hit the high street dressed as the walking dead would be a great idea.”
It certainly got the reaction it was seeking. The day saw more than 300 local people and retailers walk the streets in zombie attire and attend a mock funeral for the high street .
“The benefits were two-fold,” explained Andrew. “It united the community in a fun and original way but, importantly, it got our message across loud and clear. There is a role for supermarkets, but we don’t need to have one every 100 yards. We’re surrounded by them as it is, with the Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express on the high street, a giant Tesco, Asda and Morrisons just a mile away. However, there is a need for a small oasis of interesting independent shops. In Stoke Newington we are lucky enough to have that right now, but it will be killed off if yet another large superstore is allowed to encroach.”
The group has also posted an interactive map on its website, www.stokeylocal.co.uk, which shows all the independent retailers within half-a-mile of the proposed development, including just over 20 convenience stores.
“Some are struggling to compete as it is, so another development would surely push many over the brink,” added Andrew.
In October Kris Patel’s newsagents closed after more than 25 years. Bobbie’s C-Store owner Faruk Rindal said it was vital that no more casualties were sustained. “This is such a vibrant area, we have to protect it. We’re upping the game in our own store, making sure that we give people a real reason to visit, and they clearly value that because we gained hundreds of signatures against the Sainsbury’s in our petition. The zombie protest took it to another level, though,” he said.
And as C-Store went to press rumours were flying around Twitter that Sainsbury’s was about to submit a scaled-back application for the development in light of the local response.
“Whatever form the application takes we’re ready to fight it,” said Andrew. “The zombie protest had an element of humour and attracted the reaction we wanted, but this is a serious campaign. We will use the existing legal framework to fight the application. I’m sure it will include lots of plans for affordable housing and such like, but these are nothing but fig leaves under which the ugly truth of the supermarket is hidden, and we don’t want that in our community,” he added.