Monday, 14 January 2008

First things first

Sometimes it is difficult to know what to write, while at other moments it is obvious. And at those times when things just seem to come together, and everything points the same way, it is usually best to give in to the inevitable and get on and write some words down.

And it was a series of such moments that brought me to start this blog.

The first was that after living in London for almost all my life the last year has seen my experience of the city change.

Suddenly, the things that I did, the places that I went and the people that I knew became increasingly local.

Instead of the city centre sports club I sporadically went to, I joined a local bike club, and started racing at a nearby velodrome. My social life changed also, with visits to other parts of London becoming less regular as I found friends with people in my locality and arranged evenings out within walking distance of where I lived.

And it was this context that two further things occurred, and these together spurred me to put pen to paper. The first of these was a book called Tescopoly.

Tescopoly was written by Andrew Simms, a policy director at a left-leaning thinktank called New Economics Foundation. He is also a board member of campaigning group Greenpeace. Hardly surprisingly, therefore, he is no great fan of Tesco.

And it is not just Tesco that Simms does not like, it is the entire system that Tesco represents, a form of big-business capitalism that he accuses of squeezing out the small and only rewarding remote and uncaring multinational corporates.

But writing a list – however long – of bad things does not an analysis make. Modern capitalism is more than simply a system designed by bad people to do evil things, as Simms repeatedly suggests, and understanding how our high streets have changed in recent years needs an explanation more complex than portraying supermarkets as scheming bad guys out to exploit the innocent consumer.

But despite my annoyance at Tescopoly’s dreary and unbalanced analysis, the book touched on a number of issues that did have some resonance.

While it might not have been the product of some evil scheme, our high streets have withered away, often being replaced by out-of-town shopping districts, which we travel to miserably along clogged roads. And because our visits to the high street and local shops have grown increasingly rare, we see less of the people that live near us than previous generations, making our communities feel less communal and a lot more threatening.

And I had this in mind when I happened across a rather wonderful thing. A blog that was all about my home town, Brockley. As I read through the posts, I felt so pleased that so many people were lavishing attention on the small part of the world that I lived in.

And this excitement was heightened because the Brockley blog isn’t just local, it is micro local. I knew the shops and restaurants reviewed, I had visited many of the shops listed, and the local issues discussed were often the same street-level concerns as those that I cared about.

Curiously, the internet, which is often thought of as a remote, unpersonal, globalised space, was drawing people from neighbouring streets together. The global was going local, and it was time for me to join in.

And so Going Local, the blog, will track my little adventure in localism, and look into the issues that are raised along the way.

It will initially look at some of the issues raised by Tescopoly. These are concerns not limited to where we shop and what we buy, but of the character of our towns and cities, where and how we work and the nature of our society as a whole.

Is Tescopoly right to claim that supermarkets have hollowed out our communities? Is it still possible to eat well at a good price and in a way that supports the community? And if our communities have been damaged is it possible to fix things? If so, how? And what would such a locality look like? And on the biggest scale, is it possible to be local in these globalised times?

I do not know the answers to these difficult questions. To my shame, I do not even know what the local shops sell. So that is my first task.


Brockley Nick said...

Hi Tom, really nice to hear you're enjoying Brockley Central, I'll be following your blog closely from now on, looking for inspiration!

Andrew Brown said...

Hi Tom, if fancy it there's a Lewisham blogger's meet up on 7th March. You'd be very welcome.