Posts Tagged ‘Totnes’

Reinventing the high street: Totnes, a shining example

January 15, 2014

After more doom-laden headlines, Peter Stanford visits Totnes, which offers a model to other embattled high streets.



‘It’s different here because we have so many independent shops,” enthuses Caroline Voaden. “When visitors come into Totnes and see our high street, they often say to me, ‘We wish we had something like this back home.’ ”

We are standing in front of former journalist Voaden’s quirky shop, Social Fabric, at the top end of a steep Devon high street that has been labelled the “funkiest” in the country.

Close enough for an excursion from the tourist traps of the Dart Estuary or the beaches of South Hams and Torbay, it boasts its own local currency (the Totnes pound), a dizzying range of wholefood, organic and eco-outlets, several places to buy New Age crystals if that’s your fancy, and a thriving market a couple of days a week. Plus there is a hardly a chain store in sight, or a car (of which more later).

At first glance Totnes looks like a robust rebuttal of predictions made this week that the high street is as good as dead. Bill Grimsey, the former CEO of several big shopping chains, has published an independent report speaking of a “deep decline” and highlighting the 47 per cent of retail companies currently in financial difficulty. Meanwhile Mary Portas has told a House of Commons select committee that she may have been “naïve” when she delivered her own plan to revive the high street to the government, which was criticised by Grimsey: she did not expect the issue would become such a “political football”.

Back in Totnes, though, the mood is more optimistic. “There’s definitely a strong community character to our high street,” says Voaden. A good case in point is her own shop. It sells wools and everything you could want to make your own clothes, curtains or accessories, but it also hosts hands-on sessions, such as the one today where a group of local women are busy behind us learning how to make a clasp purse. On the blackboard above the till are notices for other workshops, from quilting to “knit and natter”. It is a perfect example of that blend of commercial and social enterprise that many suggest is the future of our high streets.

“Totnes sometimes has a reputation of being full of alternative people with plenty of money,” reflects Voaden, “but that’s not what I have found. Locals are not particularly well-heeled. There are a lot of pensioners. And another group I notice in our workshops are women who are caring for elderly relatives. Coming here is perhaps one of the few opportunities they have to get out.”

Social Fabric stands in the shadow of Totnes’s Norman castle, at the very top of a Mount Everest of a high street. This end of town contains the more specialist shops such as Not Made in China, offering furniture from local craftspeople, the Devon Harp Centre and the Willow vegetarian restaurant.

But it is not one-dimensional. In the mix are a coin-operated launderette and a sprinkling of charity shops. This is neither a stereotypical prosperous market town nor a hippie-dippie paradise à la Glastonbury.

“Any high street has to take account of its local clientele,” says Kay Dunbar, long-time Totnes resident and co-founder of the Ways With Words festivals. “So ours is a high street that reflects a catchment area where, for instance, people are prepared to spend money on alternative medicines and organic vegetables. Even our local Morrisons seems to carry stock that reflects that willingness.”

Once you wander down below the Riverford Farm Shop, an offshoot of the locally based award-winning organic farming and veg-box-delivery business, and beyond the Eastgate arch that stretches over the midriff of the street, there is a definite change in character. There is still the quirky (Totnes Cats Café, offering a “feline therapy lounge”), and the alternative (Aromatika, selling organic and natural skincare products) but the more familiar names start appearing: Superdrug, W H Smith, Peacocks and Fat Face.

In the window of Arcturus Books, a poster pleads “Please Save Our High Street: internet shopping is destroying local high streets across the UK. We need your support to Keep Totnes Alive and Buzzing”, but a bigger splash is made by other more Totnes-specific signs in other windows protesting against the council’s new traffic scheme. It has effectively spilt the high street in half. Cars can now only enter on to it half way up – or down – then have to go one way or the other.

“In one way, it’s nicer because the new scheme has deterred motorists and made it quieter and more pedestrian than before,” says Annie Bowie, owner of the Bowie Gallery, two-thirds of the way up, “but pedestrianisation can kill a high street. All us shopkeepers are losing that business that came when people would pop up with the car, park for 10 minutes, and go in and out of a half a dozen places.

“That is what we need to be encouraging now by waiving parking fees on some days, and by getting rid of these new traffic arrangements. At the moment at the very bottom of the high street, where people used to drive in, there is a big No Entry sign. That’s hardly a warm welcome for visitors.”

Down at the Transition Town offices, next door to Superdrug, it is local shoppers rather than visitors that concern the founder Rob Hopkins and his colleague Ben Brangwyn. This grassroots, community network, which started out in Totnes and has now spread to different parts of the country, aims to build economic and social resilience as a response to dwindling oil reserves and climate change.

As part of its efforts to encourage local people to buy locally sourced goods from locally run shops, it introduced the Totnes pound in 2007. This can be swapped for sterling on a 1:1 exchange rate, can be spent in all participating shops; the aim is to ensure that local money stays within the local economy.

There is still, Brangwyn concedes, “a long way to go” for the Totnes pound. Currently some £9,000 worth of the notes is in circulation, but versions of the same idea in Brixton, south London, and in the much bigger economy of Bristol, have taken off to a greater degree.

Hopkins, meanwhile, puts the whole Transition Town experiment into a broader perspective. “What we are modelling here in Totnes is not just about the survival of the high street, it is about the local economy in the widest sense. So here we have established a community energy company, and a community brewery.

It is a challenging vision for the future, and one in which the high street must play its part. It has also strengthened Totnes’s resilience right now. A vigorous local campaign recently saw off an attempt by Costa to open here. With plenty of independent alternatives already thriving, Totnes decided it simply didn’t need it.

“That was an important victory,” says Annie Bowie, “and shows how alive with local spirit this high street is. But the recession and other pressures have made it more fragile, and that means we will have to go on fighting to keep it the way local people want it.”

Published in the Telegraph.

Totnes shows how our towns could be. It shows how they used to be.

Contrast Totnes with Aldershot and Farnborough. The latter two towns have been laid waste by the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor getting in to bed with developers and Big Business, practising a policy of ethnic cleansing of small shops, independent businesses.

The latest act of cultural vandalism by the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor is the destruction of c1720s Tumbledown Dick for a Drive-Thru McDonald’s.

Spot the difference, Caroline Lucas works with local traders, Rotten Borough of Rushmoor and local MP support McDonald’s and the trashing of local heritage.

North Laine, is a lovely area of Brighton, three streets, indie shops.

Totnes seen as a model community

December 5, 2012

Totnes got national if not international recognition as the town that said no to Costa.

Not the local planning authority, they stuck two fingers up to the people and local businesses of Totnes. It was the people of Totnes, the local businesses, the town council, the mayor, the local member of Parliament who said no to Costa. The local district council, they didn’t give a toss for the people of Totnes.

Heritage is important. It gives character, sense of well being, quality of life, civic pride to a locality.

Heritage houses local businesses, it gives them somewhere to operate out of. They in turn give an area its character, its idiosyncrasies.

We see this in Totnes, we see it in North Laine in Brighton, we see it in Steep Hill in Lincoln.

People do not visit these places to drink coffee in Costa. It was a sick joke when Costa tried to claim they would enhance the vitality and vibrancy of the town, that they would attract tourists into the town. People visit to drink coffee in indie coffee shops.

You do not go to Protaras in Cyprus to eat at McDonald’s or drink coffee in Costa, you go to Nicolas Tavern for kleftiko a traditional Greek-Cypriot meal cooked slowly, slowly in a wood fire clay oven or sip freddo cappuccino sat outside patisserie amelie.

Independent record shops do still exist. It is not Amazon that treats music as a commodity, it is a platform that sells stuff and dodges tax, it is the major record labels that treats music as a commodity.

Ben’s Records in Tunsgate in Guildford, not only has a passion for music, but knows what the regulars like. It will be playing no sooner have you walked in the door.

Resident in North Laine in Brighton, has an amazing diversity of music.

Independent record shops and a thriving music scene seem to go hand in hand.

If you wish to use the net, there is bandcamp, which offers a far better deal to both artist and music lovers than Amazon, iTunes or Spotify.

The shop earmarked for Costa was a wholefood shop. It stood empty, it was claimed there was no interest, Costa were doing everyone a favour, occupying an empty shop. That lie has been exposed, no soonest has Costa pulled out, than it has found a use as an art collective and exhibition space and a leather workshop.

Independent businesses trade with each other, support each other, they recycle money within the local economy, they pay their taxes. Totnes even has its own local currency.

If Totnes is one end of the spectrum, then Aldershot is the other, a Victorian town raped by greed and planners in the pocket of developers and big business. If Totnes serves as a model for others to follow, then Aldershot serves as a model of what not to do.

Aldershot is a Victorian town, or was. It is unusual in that it sprang up almost overnight from an isolated village in the midst of heathland. Over a period of ten years when the Army arrived it became a Wild West boom town, brothels, pubs, victuallers, whatever was needed to service the needs of soldiers away from home.

Most towns would be proud of this heritage, not Aldershot. Systematically it has been destroyed. Many of the fine Victorian buildings were destroyed, or defaced by inappropriate developments, the heart of the town was gutted for a ghastly shopping centre, which houses the same clone shops as found in every other Clone Town.

Aldershot used to have a Victorian Arcade. It was levelled to the ground, to be replaced by a plastic replica. Last year it was acquired by a developer for redevelopment, the first act was to kick out all the small retailers who were in the way. The head of planning fell over backwards to try and push it through, blatantly lied to committee saying it was putting to good use empty shops (no mention why they were empty). For once councillors said no, and refused planning consent. It now goes to appeal.

Opposite The Arcade is a small row of shops. Possibly what is left of a much larger row of shops, another small row further down the street. These shops are 250 years old, pre-dating Victorian Aldershot by a century. The greedy developer who owns the ghastly shopping centre wants them demolished.

It could not be stronger, the contrast in this tale of two towns. Totnes is thriving, a strong sense of community, Aldershot is a centre of deprivation in an otherwise affluent southeast, a strong sense of alienation.

Costa pulls out of Totnes

October 25, 2012
When you want something ...

When you want something …

When you want something all the universe conspires in helping to achieve it. — Paulo Coelho

Fantastic. My town Totnes has seen off corporate coffee shop. Communities can win. — Jonathan Dimbleby

They had planning consent to move into an empty shop unit, a former wholefood shop, but such was the strength of feeling in Totnes against Costa muscling its unwanted way into Totnes, that Costa has been forced to pull out.

As I predicted when this story first broke, it has proved to be a very expensive mistake for Costa. The good folk of Totnes made it very clear, Costa was not wanted.

But the story was not only Totnes. Across the country people reacted, enough is enough, we do not wish to see the same coffee shops in every town.

5,700 signed a petition saying no to Costa, the local Mayor said no, the local member of parliament said no, the town council said no.

They were a bit slow getting the message, but finally the message has got through to Costa that they were not wanted.

A chain like Costa does nothing to enhance a town like Totnes, the same corporate brand, poor quality coffee, poor working conditions, factory cakes.

Unlike local shops, Costa does not recycle money within the local economy, it drains money out of the local economy.

It took a few months, but Costa finally listened to what local people were telling them.

This cannot be said of South Hams Council and their planning department who pushed the planning application through on behalf of Costa or the spinless local councillors who rubber-stamped what was put before them. They now have egg on their faces. Questions need to be asked why they failed to act in the best interest of Totnes.

If anyone wishes to see what happens when planning goes wrong, very wrong, then visit Aldershot. Once a proud Victorian town, Aldershot is now dying thanks to years of bad planning by a dysfunctional planning department that pushes whatever developers want.

The town centre is large bars and fast food outlets. End of this month a development opens on the edge of town centre. An eyesore that is out of keeping with the Victorian town. A development of national chains, fast food outlets.

Aldershot is a centre of deprivation, the last thing it needs is more money drained out of the town.

The Arcade is a former Victorian arcade in the centre of town. A developer has kicked out all the small retailers, to turn into one large bar (Wetherspoon) and one large retail unit (Poundland). The remaining retailers with their thoroughfare closed will die. Not good for a dead and dying town with drunken yobs on the streets at night.

The planning officials fell over backwards to try and force the scheme through. The councillors for once showed backbone and said no.

The Costa decision to pull out shows you do not have to have these national chains, you can, as Saxmundham did to Tesco, say no.

What is sickening is that no sooner do Costa announce their wise decision to pull out, than Pizza Express show an interest in moving in. What interest if any does Whitbread have in Pizza Express?

Most communities, once planning consent had been granted, would have given up. Not Totnes. They vowed to fight on and their tenacity has seen them through.

A clear message has gone out from Totnes. You do not have to be bullied, steamrollered. You do not have to accept decisions from dysfunctional local planners in the pocket of developers.

Had Costa not pulled out, they would have faced a massive boycott in Totnes, and as Totnes is a tourist destination, a boycott that would have spread across the country.

Relaxation of planning controls

September 5, 2012

It is a sad state of affairs when a Government Minister, Justine Greening, is sacked for stalwartly defending Government policy. — AirportWatch

Last week George Osborne called for a third runway at Heathrow, an expansion of Heathrow. At the weekend he called for a relaxation of planning controls. Yesterday Justine Greening who has steadfastly opposed Heathrow expansion was sacked as Transport Secretary. Her deputy was also fired.

Today London Mayor Boris has called for clarity, a categorical no to a third runway and expansion of Heathrow. He has not got it, instead there have been attacks on Boris.

George Osborne has been a disaster as Chancellor of the Exchequer. His polices have been to hit the poor and disadvantaged, slash public services, lower taxes for the rich and turn a blind eye to tax dodgers.

David Cameron has shown himself to be a spineless individual who has caved in to businesses interests and developers who for some time have been calling for Justine Greening to be fired.

What of localism? This has proved to be weasel words from Cameron, as has the Big Society. Big Lie more like.

Business wishes to see Heathrow to be expanded as a hub. Passengers fly in, passengers fly out. Heathrow already serves more destinations than other airports. There are no benefits to being a hub, many disbenefits.

Heathrow has more flights to business destinations than any other airport in Europe: more than the combined total of Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt. London airports as a whole have the highest number of flights to key markets in Asia, the Middle East, North American and Australasia. More passengers fly in and out of London than any other city in the world. Paris, our so-called nearest competitor, is in fifth place.

Heathrow aside, there is the wider issue of relaxation of planning controls, letting developers do as they please. It is difficult to see how planning can be relaxed any further, local councils already fall over backwards to rubber-stamp whatever developers want, ignoring the wishes of local communities. We see the result with towns and cities across the country trashed.

Farnborough: Half the town centre demolished for a superstore, social housing demolished for a car park for the superstore.

Aldershot: An edge-of-town-centre development which if not a white elephant will destroy what is left of the town centre.

Aldershot: The Arcade, a Victorian arcade destroyed, replaced by a plastic replica with boarded-up shops, pictures of the butcher, baker, candlestick maker painted on the boards. Someone’s idea of a sick joke. Now the plastic replica is under threat, retailers kicked out to make way for a large bar.

Totnes: Local community with a strong sense of civic pride, wished to retain the character of Totnes and strongly opposed a Costa Coffee shop. The local council rubber-stamped the application.

Southwold: As with Totnes, local community with a strong sense of civic pride oppose a Costa Coffee shop, rubbeer-stamped by the local council.

When it comes to companies like Costa, they simply ignore the planning rules.

Far from a loosening of planning controls we need a tightening and placing local communities firmly in control of what takes place in their locality.

Local people should decide, not planners, not councillors and certainly not developers.

Postcard from the edge of democracy

August 26, 2012

This month, two towns in Britain were engaged in a fierce battle to keep the corporate chain, Costa Coffee out of their high streets, Southwold in the East and Totnes in the West. A hundred people were thrown out of the council chamber in the normally quiet sea-town of Southwold as the local council voted in favour of the chainstore (following Tesco and WH Smith earlier in the year). Here Transition social reporter Jay Tompt in Totnes, looks at the process whereby outside developers and corporate interests outweigh the interests of local people and businesses, a pattern than prevails thoughout the modern world.

All politics is local but not all local politics is democratic. This fact hit home on Wednesday when over 100 Totnesians marched through the centre of town up to the local seat of power to demonstrate loud and clear that the town of Totnes overwhelmingly opposes the economic invasion by a large corporate coffee chain.

Follaton House sits just a mile outside the town centre and is the home of the South Hams District Council. The Totnes Town Council is virtually powerless. All decisions of any import concerning Totnes, as well as all other towns and villages in the district, are made here by councillors and bureaucrats, the vast majority of whom commute to this comfortable, self-contained estate, surrounded by arboretum and parkland. These commuters have little reason to visit the town and, for the most part, they don’t. If they had, they wouldn’t have been surprised to see their council chamber fill with citizens determined to make their collective voice heard. But actually, they weren’t surprised, just dismissive.

For three months, independent shop owners, community leaders, and citizens have built a strong case for keeping our local economy independent, resilient, and sustainable. They collected over 5,700 signatures from people opposing corporate coffee chains and in favour of supporting the over 41 independent coffee outlets in the town. They sought guidance from planning experts who found that several aspects of the Localism Bill and the new National Planning Policy Framework heavily supported local decision-making power on matters concerning sustainable development and the character of the town.

Strangely, even David Cameron is on our side: “For our high streets to thrive they must offer something new and different. But for this to happen it is local people who must take control, developing the vision for the future of their high streets and putting their energy and enthusiasm into making it a reality.“
Even more strangely, the South Hams District Council’s own development and strategic planning policy documents clearly spell out the strategic vision aimed at promoting locally-directed sustainable development and community vibrancy.

So, where’s the disconnect?

About 30 marchers were allowed in to witness how the wheels of local democratic government turn. The chamber is officious with judicial-style dais, the chairman of the Development Management Committee presiding in the centre just below, and above him hangs the obligatory still life with queen and consort. He was immediately flanked by the clerk and head planning officer, and on a lower level by the solicitor, secretary and the youngish planning officer, sporting sharkfin haircut and stylish suit, who would present his recommendation in favour of Costa’s application. The next three rows supported the councillors, their backs to the audience. All in all, a scene that’s probably repeated hundreds of times a week in council chambers across Britain for those charged with conducting the people’s business.

The planning officer made his case making slowly and methodically, making it clear in his first-person testimony – “I surveyed…I decided…in my judgement…I recommend.” He pointed out several times that regardless of the change in use of the property, the fact that it was Costa Coffee makes no difference, it’s not material, it’s not part of planning procedure, and not covered in planning policy.

Speaking on behalf of the people of Totnes, town councillor and community leader, Jill Tomalin, spoke eloquently for the need to reject the application on several material grounds, referencing current planning policy, as well as new NPPF guideline and the Localism agenda. After the Costa representative made his case, claiming that Costa Coffee outlets add to local character, generate more footfall, and give a boost to local shops, the floor was opened to the councillors. Local district councillors and allies then spoke forcefully for the application to be denied, citing the language in NPPF, Localism Bill and SHDC’s own strategy and development documents. Repeatedly, the planning officer and his boss made the point that the fact that it was Costa was not material and could not be considered. The council solicitor also weighed in to remind the councillors that the fact that the applicant was Costa could not be considered.

Comments from those who would in moments vote in favour of Costa reflected party ideology and a pre-agreed message strategy. Nearly every one began with the reminder that “as the Development Management Committee we’re bound to consider each case … blah … blah … irrespective … blah… blah…blah”. Some asked for further clarification from the planning officer, his boss, the solicitor – “we can’t tell someone consider who owns the business, can we?” A measure or two feigned angst: “I don’t like it anymore than you do, but our hands are tied.” One councillor pulled a Marie Antoinnette: “Over five thousand signatures in a town of six thousand? That’s …uh…um. Well, I don’t see why so much fuss over a cup of coffee. Humph.” And finally, an absurdly sarcastic councillor predicted that once it was in, Totnes would be thrilled with their new Costa. The entire chamber erupted with laughter.

The final vote was 17-6 in favour of Costa, who will soon move into the largest retail space in the lower part of the town, across the street from the Old Bakery. They’ll have 70 covers and will be in prime position to intercept plenty of tourist footfall. The landlord is based in London and refuses to lease the space to a local shop even through there have been three who wanted it and could afford the high rent. And now, apparently, the landlord is evicting a family who have lived above the shop for the last 20 years. But the No to Costa in Totnes campaign has not given up the fight, not by a long shot.

Fair enough some might say. Diving into the arcane “discipline” of planning policy is not for the easily bored. That’s part of its purpose, as is much in the way local regulations are developed, consulted, and propagated. But diving in might reveal that, in fact, the nameless, faceless bureaucrats were just doing their jobs, that the councillors hands were tied, that the system worked just as it was designed to do, minimising the fallible human element and maximising the smooth function of the free market.

But nameless, faceless bureaucrats and managers do make fallible human decisions without regard to justice, democracy, economic fairness, wisdom, compassion, collateral damage. It happens in every state government, in every multinational corporation, in every large organisation of just about every type, basically decent human beings, who love their families and want better lives for their kids, fill out the forms, tick the boxes, processing the inputs and outputs that keep the big machine running and the fortnightly direct deposits flowing. In their cubicles or corner offices, the ends of the chain of events in which they participate are perhaps so removed they’re not real, abstractions from a different department or continent, tangibly delinked from this pencil pressed to paper marking X in this box. And it’s in this incredibly innocuous harmless anonymity where it’s just a job and a cup of coffee is just a cup of coffee where anything is possible. Anything.

— Jay Tompt

Posted in One World Column.

What this illustrates is a complete and utter failure of local democracy. Thick councillors spouting what they are told to spout, failing to look at the evidence laid before them. Council jobsworth dictating to to councillors how to vote.

If local councils are simply going to rubber-stamp what is placed before them, what is the purpose of a local planning committee?

It is local people who are best placed to decide what is best for their locality, their community, the local economy, not councillors and not planners.

Look around the country and see how many town centres have been destroyed by local councils in the pocket of developers and Big Business.

Costa Coffee’s digital PR journey

August 21, 2012
One of five Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

One of five Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

Appears @CostaCoffee not interested in replying to democratically elected MPs. — Sarah Wollaston MP

Should be renamed how to ignore key stakeholders. — NotoCosta in Totnes

This has to rank as one of the most boring presentations I have ever seen, I was a ready to give up after a minute, but thought no, I will endure, and it was endure, until the end. I thought something interesting may occur. It never did. I was left wondering what was this guy on, as he droned on and on and on.

The one thing he did not have a clue about was how to engage with an audience, or how to make effective use of social media. I was never quite sure whether or not he was simply taking the piss.

Costa engage? Really? Try telling that to the people of Totnes or even their Member of Parliament Sarah Wollaston.

Costa did respond to Mary Portas, but that was only to refer her to their blog, and what was written there was a load of bollocks.

The blog is called coffee lovers. Having a laugh are we?


– keithpp – 69

– notocosta – 67.9

– costacoffee – 70.1

No a lot in it is there? So much for the high digital profile of Costa.

The only publicity Costa has been getting lately is extremely bad publicity.

Guildford has five Costa Coffee shops, three Starbucks, one Caffè Nero. Somewhat overkill!

Note: I originally wrote there are four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford. My mistake, there are five.

Those in the know in Guildford, that is those who appreciate a decent cup of tea or coffee and freshly made lunches, delicious cakes and afternoon tea and scones, know to avoid the High Street chains who churn out muck that may have some passing resemblance to coffee, instead they go to Guildford House, a listed building, an art gallery and tourist information centre (always helpful), located top of the High Street, more or less opposite Sainsbury’s. Walk through, down the stairs and there you will find a delightful tea shop, one of the best kept secrets in Guildford.

The High Street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

August 19, 2012

He’s the “retail doctor” that companies turn to in times of trouble. Simon Freakley tells Andrew Cave why big-name stores need a revolution.

The high street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

The High Street as we know it is dead, says Simon Freakley

Simon Freakley is not afraid of being controversial. The chief executive of corporate advisory and restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper Europe thinks high streets outside London are dead and will never recover their former glories.

Freakley, 50, is also sceptical about the future for Marks & Spencer and other mid-market retailers and believes Britain’s commercial property industry has hardly changed since the Magna Carta and needs reform.

These are provocative views and more so because Freakley is far from a disinterested observer. His firm specialises in retail as well as the financial services, leisure and automotive sectors and has run high-profile high street administrations including Clinton Cards, Habitat, Hawkin’s Bazaar and womenswear chains Jane Norman, Fenn Wright Manson and Ellie Louise.

He is clear about the reasons for such collapses – generally bad management, failure to grasp the opportunities presented by the internet and social media, and being squeezed by converging retail sectors. He is the retail doctor and sometime undertaker, and as such his opinions matter.

Take Clinton, which Zolfo Cooper sold in June to American Greetings, its main supplier of greeting cards, after axing 380 of the group’s 780 shops and shedding 3,000 of its 8,000 jobs.

“It had been very profitable,” says Freakley. “But it grew very fast and took on a lot of leaseholds, many of which, frankly, were over-rented. When trading conditions got tough, the property costs were killing the business. The chain’s estate was ludicrously out of step with market requirements.

“In some large shopping mall locations, there were as many as four Clinton Cards stores. You don’t need to be a retail expert to work out that that’s a massive oversupply issue.”

Freakley says retail management teams are “behind the game” unless they’re on the cutting edge of online marketing and distribution strategies with a strong grasp of social networking that’s not just about Facebook and Twitter but also location-based sites such as Foursquare and content sharing service Pinterest.

“That’s what the really smart people are doing in the retail sector,” he says. “It’s absolute hand-to-hand combat between retailers out there in terms of who gets the customer and who doesn’t.

“Increasingly people are making their purchases at places like Westfield and the bigger out-of-town shopping centres, rather than shopping on the high street.”

Freakley’s analysis is that while the value and luxury parts of Britain’s retail sector are holding their own in the recession, the mid-market and upper-mid-market sectors are under pressure.

“If you look at the Austin Reeds, the Jaegers and the Aquascutums… they haven’t been smart enough and quick enough at moving their strategy…

“I think it’s one of the most pressurised places to be in the high street right now. M&S is in that space. I think it’s going to find it increasingly difficult to compete against value plays in its propositions.

“That business has to be fundamentally repositioned over the next few years. It’s lost its bellwether crown to John Lewis. What was once smart, refreshing and invigorating now looks stale.

“Marks & Spencer is a supertanker. It takes some time to turn around and what it needs is strong and visionary leadership.”

Is the current M&S chief executive, Marc Bolland, up to the task? “I don’t know,” says Freakley carefully. “I think the jury’s out actually.”

Freakley is a 28-year veteran of Britain’s insolvency scene, having run the corporate restructuring business of Arthur Andersen in the early 1990s before selling it to corporate investigations group Kroll, which was in turn bought by insurance brokerage Marsh & McLennan.

He stayed throughout and in 2008 led a buyout, renaming it after the European operations of US corporate restructuring business Zolfo Cooper, which he had bought for Kroll in 2003.

Zolfo Cooper famously handled the restructuring of Enron, and its US operation, with 60 people in New York, is now run as a sister business to Freakley’s operation, while another sister partnership is based in the Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands.

Freakley is at pains to point out that retail is only a part of his firm’s remit, as are insolvencies, with Zolfo also undertaking other corporate and pensions advisory work.

However, the retail administrations are what has given the firm its media profile and Freakley certainly holds outspoken views on the future for Britain’s high streets.

“Outside London, the world is very, very different,” he argues, saying how he was shocked by a recent drive through Croydon.

“Quite a lot of retail space is now being converted into residential. There are only so many charity shops and newsagents that you can put on a secondary high street.

“These units that have stood empty for so long are now finding alternative use and secondary residential is one of the ways that’s happening.

“I think that’s going to be an issue outside London. The high street as we have known it in secondary towns is largely dead, I think it will be redefined.

“I don’t think many of those units will ever be occupied again by commercial retail space. People’s buying patterns have forever shifted.”

Freakley argues that it is not the volume of Britain’s retail sales that’s the problem – total retail sales in the UK have actually risen by about 3pc in the past year – the issue is where they are taking place.

Some 10pc of all retail sales now happen online, and major edge-of-town shopping centres are stealing market share from provincial high streets.

“Those online sales are not coming back to the high street,” he says, going on to disparage the Government’s £5.5m package of support to help revive nearly 400 ailing British high streets under a plan suggested by Mary Portas, the retail expert dubbed the “Queen of Shops”.

“There will never again be the amount of retail activity that there has been on the British high street.

“I think the Portas report reflects a lot of wishful thinking. I don’t think it’s a strategy that’s going to re-establish the high street to its former glory.”

He expects the effect of the Olympics in keeping visitors out of central London for two weeks in mid-summer will soon find its way into retail profit warnings later this year.

So are we going to see another spate of retail failures? Freakley thinks it is possible.

“The difficulty is when you get into a situation where your profits really only allow you to service your interest, rather than pay down your debt or do some of the more expensive restructuring that’s fundamentally required to turn around the fortunes of your business.

“For retail operations, property is their biggest cost along with labour but their ability to buy themselves out of or renegotiate their property costs sometimes is limited because they don’t have the working capital to do it.

“Landlords have pretty much had their own way since the Magna Carta. In 1215, enshrining property rights at the hands of the landowners at the time seemed a very good idea. In 2012 where we’ve still got quarterly rental payments with upward-only rent reviews and rent paid in advance, it’s an absolutely outdated model.

“Other than in the super-prime areas, I think landlords are going to have to fundamentally rethink the way the contract between themselves and their tenants works. You’ll see more turnover-based rentals and monthly rentals or maybe even shorter-term ones.”

It should all mean plenty more work for the likes of Zolfo Cooper but Freakley insists that the firm keeps more businesses alive than it helps to dismember, saying that most of the firm’s work never gets announced.

“Frankly, if you can get into these businesses early enough, you can make a difference,” he says. “You can change the trajectory they are on.”

Is it frustrating then to be seen as an axeman? “Sometimes, yes. Most of the stuff we do is quite complicated surgery but much of that necessarily remains below the waterline. We pride ourselves on the fact that we’re able to solve these problems before they require more public remedies.”

Published in The Telegraph.

I agree with Simon Freakley on M&S. The service is appalling. Often I go in and there will be one member of staff serving, a long queue and the other tills sitting idle. And even when all the tills are manned, still long queues. The reason is the removal of tills, to be replaced by automated tills, and insufficient check-out staff employed. What this shows is complete and utter contempt for customers.

We used to have bookshops, now we have Waterstone’s, minimum wage staff who unless you are very lucky, know nothing about books, as I learnt last year when I asked about Aleph, a new book from Paulo Coelho. Unfair competion, offering best sellers at half-price or less (a discount not made available to independents), is killing off the few remaining bookshops.

Greedy developers and absentee landlords.

On the street leading down to the church in Godalming was a lovely wholefood shop. It closed its doors last year. Driven out by a greedy landlord who wished to jack up the rent.

In Alton was a lovely wholefood shop. The man running the shop was hoping to continue for a couple of years in the hope of finding a buyer, then retire. The greedy absentee landlord wanted a long-term lease signing. The shop closed last summer, one year on it sits empty.

The High Street is dead, but it did not die of natural causes, nor can we finger the internet, poor service weakened it, but what killed it, a clear case of murder, was greedy developers, High Street retailers and corrupt town planners and councillors in their pockets.

Why would anyone wish to visit a High Street when it is the same Clone Town in Any Town, with every High Street looking the same?

When Costa, indicative of all that is rotten and corrupt about our local planning system, muscle their unwanted way into towns like Totnes and Southwold, then tried to claim they are an attraction for the town, that they bring vibrancy and vitality to the High Street, we have to at best treat it as a sick joke.

Costa though may have taken a step too far. I see parallels with London Greenpeace handing out flyers outside McDonald’s. McDonald’s countered with the McLibel trial which spectacularly backfired on McDonald’s.

Costa trying to muscle their way into Totnes and Southwold has spectacularly backfired on Costa. It has brought them national publicity, all of it bad. They are facing boycotts in both towns.

Costa has also highlighted that the local councils in responsible for planning in the two towns to be not fit for purpose with local councillors failing to act for the locality they are elected to serve.

Not that local councillors failing their local communities is unique to these two towns.

Aldershot used to have a wonderful Victorian Arcade. It was demolished, to be replaced by a plastic replica. The plastic replica, home to small retailers, is now itself facing destruction, to be replaced by a large bar and a High Street chain that keeps prices low by employing slave labour.

Bad planning has destroyed Aldershot.

Nearby Farnborough has fared no better. Planning consent was granted to demolish half the town centre to be replaced by a superstore, an estate of social housing was demolished for the car park.

Farnborough is now a ghost town.

Costa Coffee respond to not being wanted in Totnes

August 19, 2012
One of four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

One of four Costa Coffee shops in Guildford

@CostaCoffee Please listen to the people of Totnes. They don’t want you, they have 41 independent coffee shops already! — Mary Portas

@maryportas thanks for your comments, it would be great if you could spare a few minutes to read our blog on the matter. — Costa Coffee

Costa coffee must be feeling it, as they have written a blog post in response to criticism by Mary Portas. They have not written or responded to the local community, such is their contempt for local communities.

They cannot even get the link right, they link to the blog, not the post.

The blog is called For Coffee Lovers. Somewhat Orwellian. The one place coffee lovers would not go is Costa.

They say planning is complicated. Actually it is not. It should be a process whereby local people collectively decide what is best for their locality. In Totnes it spectacularly failed. Local councillors ignored the wishes of local people and rubber-stamped the Costa application for an unwanted Costa Coffee shop.

The same happened in Southwold, where again the local council ignored the wishes of local people and rubber-stamped an application from Costa for an unwanted Costa coffee shop, only in this case somewhat bizarrely approved an identical application which only weeks before they had rejected. What had changed?

Planning process is complicated? Is that the excuse put forward by Costa for ignoring the planning system altogether and illegally opening coffee shops in Bristol and sticking two fingers up to the local planning process?

The Costa blog is mealy-mouthed bollocks, half truths and lies.

Costa tell us they are doing Totnes a favour by filling an empty unit, that they are providing a social space, that they are merely simply coffee servers, no threat to anyone, they contribute to a local community, their offering is very different to local coffee shops.

Their offering is very different to local coffee shops. I would hope it is. I would hope local coffee shops serve decent coffee, freshly made, locally-sourced sourced cakes from the local baker (or better still bake their own) and that they do not charge extortionate prices for a cake and a coffee.

Provision of social space. Something all coffee shops provide, only when they are independent not a corporate outlet, it is a genuine social space.

Why would a Costa coffee shop bring people into an area to spend their money when the same Costa Coffee shop can be found in any Clone Town across the country? And even if it did, the money spent would be immediately sucked out of the local economy.

The shop unit would not have sat empty, there were other interested parties, but the absentee landlord refused to let.

Yes, Internet does suck money out of a local economy, but then so does Costa.

80p in the pound spent in a local shop gets re-spent in the local economy.

If Costa are happy to coexist with other independent coffee shops, then why do they flood an area with Costa Coffee shops (often with no planning consent), in a deliberate attempt to drive the other coffee shops out of business? The same aggressive tactics used by Starbucks.

At the end of the day, we’re just coffee shop operators. We’re not out to cause trouble or put people out of business. We’re there to serve coffee and provide a social space – nothing more.

One could almost be forgiven for believing Costa was a social enterprise, there for the good of the local community, a not-for-profit entity, not an aggressive wholly-owned subsidiary of Whibread, each a profit centre geared to extract the maximum revenue from a locality.

The Arcade

August 15, 2012
The Arcade a Victorian arcade destroyed by greed!

The Arcade a Victorian arcade destroyed by greed!

These signatures have just been collected from customers coming into two shops in the Arcade – we haven’t even gone out to collect them on the high street. – Reza Asjadi, who owns Aladdin’s Cave

The Arcade in Aldershot is illustrative of all that is wrong and rotten with our local planning system.

Aldershot is a Victorian town, though you would not realise this as you wander through the town as you see the tacky shops fronts (the fault of the useless council), but look up above the shop fronts and you will see lovely Victorian architecture, and reflect on what might have been at ground level.

Aldershot grew very rapidly from a small village surrounded by heathland when Queen Victoria decided it would be a suitable location for the British Army, the heathland providing excellent training ground.

Aldershot used to have a Victorian Arcade, one of only a few in the country, a listed building. The Arcade was opened by Messrs Park and Sparkhall in July 1914. The local council, the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor as it is known locally, allowed its destruction. In its place a cheap plastic replica. The boarded-up empty shops units had painted the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. Planning conditions were laid down, it had to be a walk through arcade, it had to be open to the sky. The new cheap replica arcade probably never exceeded 50% occupancy.

A new developer has taken over The Arcade. The first act of the new developer was to kick out the existing retailers to make way for a large bar, possibly a J D Wetherspoons, plus a large retail unit, possible Poundland.

This is bad news for Aldershot on several grounds.

Aldershot is a black hole of deprivation in an otherwise affluent South-East. Housing Benefit claims are double that of the surrounding area.

Local retailers recycle money within the local economy. A J D Wetherspoons would suck money out of the local economy.

It is also believed a large retail unit will be created, possibly for Poundland. Poundland employ slave labour, unemployed are forced to work at Poundland for nothing, or risk losing their benefits if they refuse. This is unfair competition to other retailers.

The Arcade used to have a lovely coffee shop. Forced out by the developer. It also had an old fashioned shop where you could buy almost anything, how shops once used to be. They have been forced out in the last few days. They have managed to relocate, but into a much smaller shop than the one they used to have.

Friday and Saturday night, the streets in the centre of Aldershot are full of drunken scum, fights break out. This is a drain on local policing resources, they have to call for backup from outside Aldershot. It is a drain on the Accident and Emergency at Frimley Park Hospital, putting staff at risk who have to deal with the drunken scum.

The Arcade provides a convenient short cut, especially so when it is raining. It was a planning condition that this had to be maintained.

What has to be seen as a sick joke, the developers in their planning application say closing the popular short cut will reduce antisocial behaviour in the evening! This is like saying the rubbish bins are overflowing, we will solve the problem by removing the rubbish bins. Retailers in The Arcade say their walk through arcade is not a source of antisocial behaviour and never has been.

Fleet, Camberley, Guildford all have large J D Wetherspoon bars, all are known hotspots for drunken scum on Friday and Saturday nights.

Reza Asjadi, who owns Aladdin’s Cave, until recently in The Arcade, has collected 4,000 signatures opposing redevelopment of The Arcade, without really trying, just from people popping into his shop. He has been forced out of The Arcade and as a consequence had to sell off four van loads of stock at knock down prices as no room in his new shop.

The local planning committee is stacked with cretins, clueless imbeciles who have no vision or imagination and lack any understanding of either planning or how local economies function. They have presided over the destruction of Aldershot town centre:

  • a shopping centre that gutted the heart of Aldershot
  • an out of town Tesco superstore
  • an eyesore development on the edge of town out of character with the town, which will relocate the retail centre of gravity away from the town centre

Were it not for the ethnic food shops that keep springing up like mushrooms after heavy rain, Aldershot would be dead.

Farnborough has fared no better under a council that has no vision, has no pride in its local towns. Half of Farnborough town centre has been demolished to make way for a Sainsbury’s superstore (in an area saturated with superstores), local businesses kicked out of their retail units, a housing estate of social housing demolished to make way for the car park. Farnborough town centre is now a ghost town.

It sadly is not only Aldershot and Farnborough where local people are let down by their local councils.

Totnes in Devon and Southwold in Suffolk are both towns with character. Costa against the strong opposition of local people, local businesses, decided to muscle its way into both towns.

Last week the local council rubber-stamped an unwanted Costa Coffee Shop for Totnes, last night the local council rubber-stamped an unwanted Costa Coffee Shop for Southwold.

The only people who are best placed to decide what is best for a local area are those who live, work and play there, not local councillors, not local planners and certainly not Big Business and developers who are looking to make a fast buck and milk what they can out of an area.

Time and time again, two fingers are stuck up to local people, those who should be acting for the local community are too preoccupied with their snouts stuck firmly in the trough.

Totnes says no to Costa, local council says yes

August 9, 2012
Costa Welcome to Clone Town

Costa Welcome to Clone Town

Totnes says no to Costa

Totnes says no to Costa

Totnes should not let Costa piss in their coffee pot. — Jason E Cooper

I’m an extremely cross mayor and very disappointed and upset. We’re desperately striving here to try and keep the town as unique as we possibly can. — Mayor Pru Boswell

Costa should recognise the damage they do to their own brand as well by imposing where they’re not welcome. — Sarah Wollaston MP

Fine Arabica coffee, however knowledgeably and ethically sourced, has a habit of shedding its winning qualities when made into an amaretto milkshake by casual staff earning little more than the minimum wage. — Joanna Blythman

David Cameron made the right noises when he said local people should make local decisions. He made a fatal mistake when he assumed local councils act in the best interest of local people.

Aldershot and Farnborough are centres of deprivation in an otherwise affluent south-east. Housing benefit claims are double that of surrounding areas. The local council known locally as the Rotten Borough of Rushmoor rather than helping to regenerate, to put money into the pocket of local people, to retain and recycle money in the local economy, has done everything it possibly can to trash the local economy.

Farnborough had half its town centre destroyed to make way for a Sainsbury’s superstore (this in an area saturated with superstores), local independent family run businesses saw their business destroyed (many of who had been in the town for 30 or more years), a small housing estate of social housing was destroyed to make way for a car park for the superstore. The town is now a ghost town.

A lovely little family deli near me was destroyed by the council, worthless jobsworths conducting a vicious vendetta against the shop to force its closure.

Aldershot is a Victorian town. Having learnt nothing from the destruction of Farnborough, an eyesore, a blot on the landscape is being erected on the edge of the town centre. It obstructs the skyline, it is completely out of character with the town centre. This new development will relocate the centre of retail gravity away from the town centre and destroy what little is left. Were it not for the many ethnic shops, Aldershot would be dead.

Aldershot used to have a Victorian Arcade. Possible only one of three in the country. It was destroyed. In its place a plastic replica. The units sat empty, boarded-up shop fronts with pictures of the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.

The handful of shops in The Arcade are now being evicted. The Arcade to be redeveloped as a large bar, possibly J D Weatherspoons. Friday and Saturday night Aldershot is full of drunken scum. The last thing it needs is another large bar.

Last year small retailers were evicted from Aldershot town centre. This was the idea of the Borough chief executive who offered to pay the legal costs, and cover the ground rent for two years, to bring in a Lidl. The same chief executive who got into bed with the developers who have destroyed Farnborough town centre, the same chief executive who said he would work 24/7 to ensure the development that will finish off Aldershot town centre would go ahead.

At Upton Park in London, the Mayor of Newham got into bed with developers, the same developers responsible for the destruction of Farnborough town centre, to destroy Queen’s Market, a very popular local market, and replace it with an Asda superstore. Local people who opposed these plans were called troublemakers. The good news is that London Mayor Boris stepped in and stopped the development going ahead, in the meantime Asda had pulled out due to the bad publicity.

In Lincoln local people learnt from a Notice hidden in the local paper that the City Council intended behind their backs to sell The Lawn. The Lawn contains the Sir Joseph Bank’s Conservatory, the botanist who sailed with Cook, and who founded Kew Gardens. The Lawn was not the council’s to sell, it was an asset held in trust on behalf of local people. The cost saving, the annual running cost, was that of one useless jobsworth.

In Scotland, bully boys at a local council tried to shut down the food blog NeverSeconds run by Veg, aka nine-year-old Martha Payne.

I was thinking I had never been to Totnes, that I have passed through on the train on my way to Cornwall. But I am thinking of somewhere else where the line runs along a seawall, where there is a town inland of the line. I may have had a fleeting visit to Totnes. I was at Dartmouth and one day went on the river upstream to Totnes, but although I can recall Dartmouth, and the River Dart, I have no recollection of Totnes.

Totnes is small market town in Devon. They are fiercely proud of their heritage and their independent local shops, they even have their own local currency, the Totnes Pound.

It was therefore no surprise when Totnes said No to a Costa Coffee Shop, this in a small town that boasts of 30 independent tea and coffee shops, 5,500 signed a petition, people marched on the local council. The council stuck two fingers up and said yes to an unwanted Costa Coffee Shop.

So much for localism and local democracy as promoted by David Cameron.

What had to be seen as a sick joke, in their application Costa Coffee said:

The character of the street would be enhanced through this proposal as it would bring a vacant unit back into use increasing the vitality and viability for the area.

This is the arguments local planers always use. One wonders who is pulling their strings.

Be it Costa, Starbucks or any other national chain, and increasingly these are global chains, the one thing they do not do is ‘increase the vitality and viability of an area’ far from it, they destroy the vitality and viability of an area.

What is vibrant about all town centres looking the same, with the same High Street retailers? Last year I went to Petersfield to visit One Tree Books, then the official bookseller for the Guildford Book Festival. A church, a market square, but lacking any character as the same High Street chains as found in every other town centre. I have seen the centres of Alton and Godalming destroyed by the same High Street chains.

But is not only the appearance. The chains are draining money out of an area, whereas local shops, each with its own quirky character, are recycling money within the local economy.

Georgia Starr, a 12-year-old visitor from Milton Keynes, who joined the No to Costa March, got it right when she said:

Totnes is quirky and independent and that’s why I like it. Milton Keynes is full of chains already and part of the reason people come to Totnes is because its different. Tourists like individuality and Costa would ruin this town.

Richard Taylor, who runs Beanbug, a ‘coffee trike’ which sources ingredients ethically:

Costa will do nothing for the town, the economy or local people. They won’t support the local supply chain. They don’t care where they get their milk or their coffee from. Where they go, Starbucks and others follow. They may as well just open a McDonald’s.

Costa claimed, and again do not laugh, a high quality coffee shop would attract people to Totnes. Really, I am going to travel all the way to Totnes to drink shit coffee when I can do it in any clone town across the country.

Fuckwit Councillor of the Year Award must go to Basil Cane who claimed the creation of eight full-time and eight part-time jobs would be welcomed (figures no doubt supplied by Costa and not independently verified) and that “In 12 months or two years, the people of Totnes will be saying ‘what a wonderful thing we have a Costa here’.”

When are thick councillors and planning officials going to wake up to the fact that chains destroy jobs not create jobs? When are they going to wake up to the fact they are there to serve their local communities, not act as facilitators for Big Business to muscle in and destroy the character of a local area, the local economy.

One of the pleasures of a day trip to Brighton is North Laines, three streets with individual quirky shops.

In Bassano del Grappa, a small town north of Venice in the foothills of the Alps, four independent bookshops happily coexisting. One was in an old palace.

Devon has green fields, dairy herds. Farmers are suffering as the big chains and milk processors are not paying enough for their milk. A local coffee or tea shop would be buying its milk locally, Costa import their milk from Belgium!

The empty unit into which Costa wish to move, was occupied until 2009 by Greenlife, a local independent whole food shop, who have now moved to larger premises. There are other independents who would be happy to relocate into the empty premises, but the absentee landlord refuses to let. Oxfam showed an interest but were outbid by Costa.

Independent shops provide variety and diversity, they offer a wider range of goods and choice, they usually employ staff who are knowledgeable and take an interest in what they are selling, and they usually pay higher wages. Many High Street stores are now competing unfairly by employing slave labour, unemployed are forced to work for nothing or lose their benefits.

Early in the week a friend and I visited Costa. It was not out of choice. It was late in the afternoon and Costa appeared to be the only place nearby open, plus I wished to learn why Art @ Costa no longer took place. Art @ Costa used to take place on the first Tuesday of the month, the same day as the farmers market in Guildford. The coffee was disgusting (possibly marginally better than Starbucks). And it was expensive. £6-40 for two coffees and a cup cake. To put this in context, excellent lunch at a Thai restaurant cost only 65 pence more. I learnt from the staff that employment conditions are abysmal, they are paid a pittance, Costa a bad company to work for.

Translate this to Totnes. I know from Art @ Costa if you have a coffee and a cake you are lucky to see change from a fiver. Therefore assume a fiver per customer. That is a lot of money being drained out of the local economy in Totnes. The only money recycled back into the local economy will be the pittance paid to the staff, and that assumes it is all paid back into Totnes, and not all will, even if we only assume money is spent on energy costs (heating, lighting, cooking, transport).

First it was Tesco (and be warned Tesco is opening a chain of ‘artisan’ coffee shops) that was seen as a threat to our town centres, now as Joanna Blythman explains, it is coffee shop chains:

Coffee chains in general are rapidly becoming a downtown planning menace to match the creeping supermarket threat. First it was Starbucks popping up like the proverbial bad penny on every corner. Then it was an army of Costas. The coffee chain assault on our town centres is now so pronounced that both Bristol and Totnes have seen high-profile campaigns – ultimately unsuccessful – to stop Costa opening.

What makes truly great coffee shops? Joanna Blythman again:

Truly great coffee shops – think Tazza D’Oro in Rome or Caffè Pirona in Trieste, are one-off indie operations, often family-run. They reflect all the quirks and preferences of the diverse group of people who run them. This authenticity is what gives the best independent coffee shops such timeless appeal, and makes them genuine assets to their area. Never confuse this venerable business model with faux chain coffee shops, stamped out with a corporate template.

But the good folk of Totnes should not be too disheartened. They should follow the advice given by Sarah Wollaston MP on Costa Coffee and vote with their feet:

I realise the people of Totnes are disappointed and feel their views were not fully taken into account. I now advise people to vote with their feet! There are so many wonderful independent coffee shops in Totnes, all contributing to its vibrant atmosphere and I wholeheartedly encourage people to continue to give them their custom. Taking part in Transition Town Totnes’s Independent Coffee Week earlier in the year enabled me to appreciate just some of those on offer.

This is only the first skirmish. They have had a lot of support for their No to Costa campaign. Turn this into direct action. Make this a very expensive exercise for Costa. Boycott the shop. Ensure not a penny is spent in Costa. Educate visitors why you are boycotting Costa. If the visitors take the message back home, an even more expensive exercise for Costa. Already nationwide bad publicity has been generated for Costa.

%d bloggers like this: