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Press release / Frome launches UK first supermarket discussion

A campaign group in Somerset has launched a UK first – a one-day event to discuss the impact of supermarkets on local economies.

The Keep Frome Local group aims to use the occasion to kick start a national network, to connect similar groups nationwide also undertaking the arduous challenge of battling supermarket planning bids.

The event, entitled Independence Day, has already attracted a high number and calibre of speakers and support from across the country.

“Every town in Britain is the target of these supermarket powers. There are people everywhere trying their best to stop the places in which they live being effectively whitewashed” explained John Harris, Keep Frome Local spokesperson and columnist for The Guardian.

“As we’ve experienced, this is no easy task. These campaign groups are generally reliant on self funding, enormous amounts of goodwill and an ongoing gathering of critical knowledge and know how.

“It’s all too common for these people to run out of steam, feeling powerless to tackle the ongoing complexity of the associated issues, such as planning law and lobbying local government.

But, there is hope. There are success stories.”

“This event in Frome is geared towards empowering communities to having their say in the development of where they live and we look forward to hearing more from campaign groups such as the one from Ledbury, which successfully fought off Tesco.”

He adds that the event was constructed as Keep Frome Local’s campaigners felt it was time to raise the tempo of their activity.

Since 2010, Keep Frome Local has been actively fighting the arrival of a large supermarket in the Somerset town – already occupied by a higher than national average of supermarket retail space.

Independence Day represents the first event of its kind and its creators hope it will instigate the formation of a south-west, or possibly a national network for information sharing between supermarket protest groups.

Keep Frome Locallers aim for it to tackle subjects the lay person often feels they cannot make a dent in; bridging the information and communication gap between planning, consultation and campaigning.

The event on Saturday 17th November will focus on supermarkets, big retail and the future of communities., tackling questions including how do independent businesses respond to the threat of big supermarkets; what kind of places do we want to live and work in; is there an alternative to so-called ‘big box’ retailing; what effects big supermarkets have on the environment and food chain; how do we keep a lid on the huge expansion of supermarkets via campaigning, the planning system, and local politics.

John Harris added:

“These are the mind of important questions which have been thrown up since we started campaigning and we thought it was time to try and tackle them, in the company of experience, and share this learning experience with people from across the country.

“Independence Day is about Frome taking the lead on what is now a major issue facing every town and village in the UK.”

The Independence Day event will be led by speakers, including Joanna Blythman, food writer, and author of Shopped, the exposé of British supermarkets; Andrew Simms, a fellow of the New Economics Foundation and the author of Tescopoly; Rob Hopkins, one of the UK’s top 100 environmentalists and co-founder of transition town Totnes; Graham Jones, author of Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened To Record Shops; Dominic Swords from the Henley Business School; former Frome resident Elizabeth Winkler from the Stokes Croft Tesco campaign; Richard Hadley, from the Ledbury campaign which successfully fought a Tesco planning bid; Nigel Dowdney, an independent retailer in Norfolk, founder of the Buy Local network and director of the Association Of Convenience Stores; June Player, an independent councilor on Bath and North East Somerset council and campaign leader against a big supermarket at the Bath Press site.

The day will also include breakout sessions, focusing on campaigning, the planning system, and wider subjects such as what will happen to the British High Street, how to create a different sort of retailing, what vision of society unites those concerned about supermarkets, and more.

Those behind Keep Frome Local hope this event will bring people together from Frome, Somerset and further afield, to share experiences of campaigning, using the planning system, and lobbying local government; and to discuss the bigger picture.

“Everyone is welcome to this event, it really is for anyone interested in the future of their local community” added John.

“We hope also that this event helps local business owners, as well as those behind other anti supermarket campaigns.”

Independence Day (independenceday2012.co.uk) will take place on Saturday November 17th, from 10.30am to 4pm at the Wesley Chapel in Frome, Somerset. Registration for the event costs £11 and tickets are available via cheeseandgrain.co.uk/2012/09/independence-day


Notes to editors:

Keep Frome Local formed in 2010, in response to developer plans (from St James Investments) for 80,000 square foot of retail space in Frome – with half of this allocated to a Tesco store. This represents more than the total existing retail space in the town’s centre. More information at independenceday2012.co.uk

Independence Day 2012 speakers:

Joanna Blythman is Britain’s leading investigative food journalist, and a high-profile commentator on the food chain, and the power of big retail. She’s the author of Shopped: The Shocking Truth About Supermarkets (2004) and Bad Food Britain: How A Nation Ruined Its Appetite (2006). Her latest book, What To Eat, was published in March.

Neal Lawson is the chair of the political pressure group Compass, which includes people from Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, and thousands with no party affiliation. He’s a high-profile writer and activist, and the author of All Consuming (2009), subtitled “How shopping got us into this mess and how we can find our way out”.

John Harris is a writer and columnist with The Guardian, a resident of Frome and an activist with the Keep Frome Local group. As well as devoting his attention to politics and popular culture, he writes prolifically about issues surrounding big retail, the built environment and the future of communities.

Andrew Simms is a fellow of NEF (the New Economics Foundation), and the author of – among other influential books – Tescopoly (2007). Thanks to a series of groundbreaking reports on ‘Ghost Town Britain’ and ‘Clone Town Britain’, he has coined new terms and changed the debate on the impact of mass retailing on communities.

Gus Hoyt is the Green Party councillor for the Ashley ward in Bristol, where he was elected by a landslide. He has a lifelong record of campaigning for social and environmental justice, and is keen a activist in the No Tesco movement focused on the Stokes Croft area of the city.

Graham Jones, author of Last Shop Standing: Whatever Happened To Record Shops?, which has also spawned a feature-length documentary. Supermarkets have eaten away at independent music retailers, but Graham has brilliantly made the case for their survival: he’ll be speaking at a session about how small business can fight back, and showing an excerpt from the film.

Nigel Dowdney, founder of the Buy Local network, and a director of the Association Of Convenience Stores, as well as being an independent retailer in Norfolk. He was deeply involved in a Competition Commission investigation into the big supermarkets, having seen first hand what they do to small business.

Elisabeth Winkler is a journalist, editor and founder of Winkler Media. She was editor of the Soil Association magazine until 2009. Her blog, Real Food Lover, was short-listed for the 2009 Guild of Food Writers’ Award. In her home city of Bristol, she is a core member of the No Tesco in Stokes Croft campaign.

Rob Hopkins is the co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and of the Transition Network. He is author of The Transition Handbook: from oil dependence to local resilience (2008) – and more recently, The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times’ (2011). He has been named by the Independent as one of the UK’s top 100 environmentalists.

Dominic Swords worked in Economic Intelligence at the Bank of England during the ’80s and has worked in Business Schools for 20 years, including the London Business School and Henley Business School. He’s an expert on the workings of the UK economy and will be speaking at a session about the state of the big four supermarkets.

June Player is an independent councilor on Bath and North East Somerset council, and led the campaign against a big supermarket at the Bath Press site, amassing 900 signatures on a petition. Plans by Tesco were shelved in March this year, though they have since drawn up fresh proposals.

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