The little town that saw off Tesco is Bourneville. It’s a pretty little town just outside Birmingham, a town specifically built by George Cadbury, to house his staff when he set up his hot chocolate factory, over 100 years ago. He was a very religious teetotal Quaker, and set up the hot chocolate company, to try to encourage people not to drink gin! The houses were well-built with lots of green space, and affordable to all. Obviously his ethics got lost as Cadbury was taken over, but the idea started out well.
The more we get to know Mr Cadbury, the more we like. Not only did he found Bourneville and a hospital in Normandy, but he provided pensions and education for all employees and being disgusted by the government and opposed to war, he even bought the local newspaper, and used it to campaign for old age pensions, peace and a halt to sweatshop labour. He even donated a country park to the people of Birmingham and a large house to a union, which was used as a hospital.
Fast-forward 100 years or so, and people still live in Bourneville, though not many are Quakers nor teetotal. However, when the local Tesco Express wanted to launch a shop, the locals were not very happy, as they were concerned about teenagers drinking in the parks, and dropping glass litter. So they decided to campaign against the shop having an alcohol license.
You would think this would be a done deal for Tesco. Not so. Because clever Mr Cadbury (perhaps having a vision of what may happen in the future) had wrapped the deeds of this private town up in so many knots, the small town won the case! It became the first branch of Tesco to not be granted an alcohol license (not on the grounds of being religious, but on the grounds of protecting local areas from glass and other litter).
So let’s salute ‘the dry village’. They have a drink themselves, but between them and the ghost of Mr Cadbury, this became one of the first times when the little community won against the big supermarkets.
There’s a similar story in Paul Kingsnorth’s book Real England, about the Norfolk town of Sheringham, which ran the longest-ever battle to stop a Tesco supermarket being launched in one of the few supermarket-free towns in the country. What’s sad is that since then, the local council voted to let Tesco in – even though a local entrepreneur had promised to use his wealth to build a people-owned supermarket that would have provided more jobs and community kitchens, cooking classes etc.
Five years on, the supermarket to be fair, has gone out of its way to try to help the local community (building affordable housing, a new fire station), possibly because it knew it had to, given the controversial decision. But it still remains the case that the town now has a big shop that makes profits out of factory-farmed meats, palm oil (that is destroying orangutan habitats) and profits from the store mostly go to shareholders far away, rather than being kept in the community. There is something rather patronising about a big giant store saying ‘we will make lots of profits then help you poor people out’, rather than just letting the ‘poor people’ help themselves, by owning the supermarket they shop from.