Until one Friday afternoon, something happened which revealed a power imbalance that needed to be challenged. On 4th December 2015 – out of nowhere – a pay and display meter appeared in Iceland’s car park. The 24-hour car park, which had always been free, now required users to pay £1, for a maximum of one-hour parking, and to spend over £5 in Iceland to get the money back.
Woodley’s local community was shocked by this decision having been made with absolutely no consultation or consideration for how would affect shoppers and traders in the area, and immediately started sharing their concerns with one another.
One of the businesses to be affected by this decision was Start Point coffee shop, a social enterprise, and home to a number of community organisers at the time. One of these organisers, Nicola, explained that because the meter appeared on a Friday afternoon, one of the busiest places at that time was the local chippy, so an impromptu community meeting took place there:
“If you ever want to get a load people in Woodley together, you go to the chippy at about five o’clock on a Friday! People felt quite angry about it.”
The main issues that the community was concerned about were the fact the there was no recognition of blue badge holders with the new pay and display system, and there was a one-hour limit placed on parking. This stood in stark contrast with the community’s collective identity, as Nicola explained:
After this initial expression of collective anger, with no central body such as a traders’ association to go through, the conversation moved online, to various local community groups and pages. One local resident named Paul set up a Change.org petition which gained hundreds of signatures over the weekend.
On Monday 7th December, Nicola and her fellow community organiser Laura hosted a public meeting, bringing together all of the businesses who were concerned about the car parking charges. As a collective, they employed a number of tactics to shift the power away from Iceland and put pressure on them to reverse the changes they had made.
They worked with a local filmmaker to create a short video to share on social media, recognising that, as had been observed over the weekend, social media was a place they could exercise more power, at a faster rate, than through traditional media channels. In the video, one of the leaders who emerged throughout the campaign, Rebecca, mentioned loneliness and social isolation as being one of the key potential consequences of the one hour limit on car parking, which reportedly struck a nerve with Iceland’s chief executive Malcolm Walker.
By Wednesday 9th December, there was a bin bag over the meter, signalling that in less than a week, a group of traders who had previously been at best disinterested, and at worst, in competition with one another, were able to force the hand of a national supermarket chain through their personal and collective power.
But the story didn’t end there. It later transpired that Iceland had been breaching their lease to the council by charging for parking. Coupled with the newly strengthened relationships amongst Woodley’s community, Nicola reflected that the sharing of this information about Iceland’s lease was crucial to ensuring lasting change following the campaign: “I didn’t realise how important it was for us to know about the lease. It’s taught me we need to fight for transparency. The fact that we have that info means no-one can ever charge for parking again.”
Throughout the campaign, Nicola had been warned by some about the dangers of challenging the power of a large business in Woodley, because “small traders need Iceland”. However, the events that unfolded paint a different picture, as Nicola explained:
“What we found is that actually, Iceland needs the small businesses equally, if not more than us.”