And now a new television series will draw further attention to the Movement as it follows one man’s efforts to launch The People’s Supermarket.
The man in question is renowned chef and social entrepreneur Arthur Potts Dawson and The People’s Supermarket aims to wrest power from the major supermarkets and return it to the people — both consumers and producers.
The concept comes from the United States and from New York’s Park Slope Food Co-op in particular. And the idea, which has been around for four decades in the US, is also a simple one; people can benefit from reductions in their shopping bill if they give some of their time to work in the co-operative’s shop.
At The People’s Supermarket, a not-for-profit venture, members are asked to work four hours a month and in return can expect savings of at least ten per cent on their shopping, compared to non members.
Arthur admits that transferring a successful model from the United States does not guarantee success: “Americans tend to be much more group-based. They’re very much into solidarity — ‘We’re the United States!’
“It remains to be seen whether the British are prepared to come together in the same way, but I think members of communities are starting to look to each other for strength and support and sharing skills.”
And Arthur believes that the current economic climate works in favour of his new venture: “It’s giving people the opportunity to take control of their own situation by giving their own time to save money, so it’s a very good way to take control of how we buy food.”
And this is Arthur’s main motivation and something he clearly feels passionate about: “Supermarkets control how we buy food and what we eat and they make an absolute fortune from us. I want this to be a real wake up call for people to see what supermarkets are doing to them and to show that there is an alternative model.
“Supermarkets are making massive demands for profit to satisfy their shareholders and that’s very destructive for the world economy. They are flying cheap products across the world while British producers struggle to get their products into British shops. I speak to a lot of local producers and they are having a really tough time in all sorts of ways. I hope The People’s Supermarket will act as a conduit between producers and consumers.”
With the opening of the shop just a few weeks away, Arthur is concentrating his efforts on the business side of the venture. He is less forthcoming when asked about the co-operative’s governance and links with the wider Movement. He has already met with Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, and says he will explore other links once the business is up and running.
And he does not necessarily see his involvement as being long term: “I’ve been working on this now for about 18 months and have worked alongside a team of people. We want people to sign up as members and very much take it on board and run it as their business.”
The People’s Supermarket will be situated in Holborn, London, close to Great Ormond Street hospital, and Arthurbelieves there should be no shortage of members.
“We have a great population within a 750m radius of the store, but they are disappearing all across London to do their shopping. This is an opportunity for people to grow up, stand up and make their opinions heard.”
Although opening is only weeks away the shop is still looking for members, money and practical items like trolleys and bags. While Arthur believes loan finance would be available he is reluctant to take it on.
“I don’t think it’s right for me to saddle members with debt that I’ve taken on. I’d rather start it on a shoestring.”
Still managing to juggle his other business ventures — such as Mrs Paisley’s Lashings, an organic gardening project for schools which he runs with Jo Wood, and his eco--friendly restaurant The Acorn House — he believes the success of The People’s Supermarket will be judged on whether it can be replicated.
If it turns out to be a one-off, he says he will regard it as an “experiment in social capitalism”. And it is an experiment the nation will be able to watch unfold when the Channel 4 series is screened later in the year.
• To become a member of The People’s Supermarket visit www.peoplessupermarket.org.