It’s not often that a group of citizens try to take on a huge corporation – but then Stokes Croft in Bristol is not just anywhere. In what’s sometimes known as The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, the people weren’t that keen on Tesco moving in a few years back.
There was a vigorous high profile protest which made the national headlines. Tesco may be still there sitting rather oddly among the off -beat alternative independent shops, bars, and blaring street art. But no other national chains have since pitched up.
It seemed a good place for the People United tour to hold a Question Time session. Not surprisingly, there was much talk of community involvement – the place seems to embody it. It may have become increasingly buzzy and trendy – property prices have risen hugely over recent years – but there is still evident poverty around. It seems, thankfully, and from a fleeting visit, that the poor have not been squeezed out.
The meeting, as meetings do, ranged wide. But there was much common ground. The link between banker greed and the rise of food banks in many British towns seemed glaringly self evident. As did the fact that people who felt politically disengaged are sometimes reconnecting in unorthodox ways. “The can’t vote, won’t vote” attitude is understandable when politicians are held in such low regard by many. It doesn’t mean people aren’t bothered about how the country is governed.
The Freedom of Information Act, which ex Prime Minister Tony Blair regrets he helped get on the statute book, is helping groups of citizens empower themselves. Knowledge is, of course, power. And from tax evasion to questionable public sector contracts, the FOI is helping shed light on what was once hidden from public scrutiny. It’s yet another tool for citizens keen to play an active role in their own communities – and beyond.