As It Comes moves

25 02 2011

Yesterday we installed the As It Comes work in another empty unit in St Nicholas Arcade as it was intended that the project tour to different empty units in Lancaster.  It will be in this site till the end of June.

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Its the knowledge

19 02 2011

For everything we sell we provide a back up service which isn’t what many people do nower days… but at the current time its very hard…Independent shops are going to be a thing of the past and I think everybody, once they are gone, is going to realise how important they are but its going to be to late.

The third of my posts on the things that local people and traders told me about is on knowledge and skills, with quotes from traders in the Lile Tool Shop, Fabrix, R&P Shaw the Fishmonger.

Whilst I was drawing I tried to work out what were the tools of the trade, and what were the unspoken skills of the independent traders. I surmised that the obvious tools were not necessarily the only or main ones, and that there were many unspoken less obvious tools – things about how people talk to customers, their body language, how they use their hands, their knowledge of the tools, food and produce they sell and their experience.

Its the knowledge, you go to B&Q and you just pick it off the shelf but if you come here you can ask and we’ll tell you about it… you can come here with a description of what you need and we will disappear into the back shop and reappear with one single screw.

There’ll be a shop full of people laughing their heads of cos of something we’ve said to one of the customers…its an important part of business, you’ve got to bring out the sense of humour sometimes.

We had a lovely hardware shop but he has gone. They cant compete with the chains, but you go into those places (chains) and ask for help and they are running away from you, they don’t want you to ask “what size screw?” or “what kind of glue?”..

He’d go, “Just a minute…” and he’d go in the back where he had hundreds of drawers and then he’d come out with it and you’d go, “Thank you so much how much?” and he’d go, “5 pence please”.”





As It Comes, publication

30 11 2010

Very excited to see the project publication just back from the printers, we will have copies at our story and sketch exchange stall the Vintage and Handmade Festive Market at Storey Gallery this weekend. The publication is a record of the project and will soon also be available as a download. Let us know if you’d like a printed copy. It was created and printed using bookleteer.com





Is Lancaster a Clone Town or a Home Town?

4 10 2010

The NEF (New Economics Foundation) have published a follow up to their 2005 Clone Town report, entitled Re-imaging the High Street: Escape From Clone Town Britain which makes for fascinating reading. It gives plenty of evidence for the need to support independent traders, something close to my heart as the Coordinator of the Talking Shop project at Mid Pennine Arts.

It highlights the prevalence of Clone Towns on high streets in Britain. A Clone Town is one which has the least variety of shops, and the highest number of chains. Home Towns, conversely, have a much clearer sense of identity, with greater variety in what the shops offer and a high number of independents rather than multiples. Surprisingly Cambridge scored as the worst Clone, with Whitstable in Kent as the highest scoring Home Town.

Lancaster wasn’t on the list, but the methodology was described in the report, so I’m planning to do my own research to find out where Lancaster will score on the Clone-to-Home Town scale. Having spent a fair amount of time there and seeing how many independents there are I’m guessing it will come out fairly high, but we shall see!

One last thought from the report – “the towns most dependent on the biggest chains and out of town stores have proven to be most vulnerable in the economic crisis.” Proof surely that we need to make sure towns keep their independence to ensure their future survival?

Lucy





Researching Lancaster’s trading history

17 09 2010

When researching a topic on social history, one can only get so far with books, newspapers and photographs. It is the experiences of others that help to paint a picture of life in bygone times. Talking to older Lancaster residents tells us a great deal about shops and retailing in an earlier era of the city’s life. We can also learn a lot from written and photographic records, and from other sources such as contemporary newspaper adverts.

The Lancaster City Museum provides the public with important bites of information about local history. This is the first port of call for anyone researching into Lancaster’s retailing past. The walls are crammed with information relating to a wide range of relevant topics, such as transport, housing, shops and pubs. More in-depth information can be found at the Lancaster community history library, which should be the next stop on the historian’s journey. Books, photographs, adverts, bills and newspapers can all be found there. These provide a more personal account of Lancaster’s trading history. The photographs illustrate the changing shop fronts in Lancaster’s town centre, while the adverts and bills tell us which items were popular to sell and buy. From these we can start to discover what Lancaster was like years ago; this gives us a better understanding of the daily lives of shop keepers.  Photographs also tell us how Lancaster has changed from a thriving market town to a more commercial centre including chains such as Sainsburys and BHS. These sources combine effectively with the residents’ personal experiences to give a comprehensive picture of life in an earlier era.

The St Thomas More Centre hosts a local history group and it is at these meetings where history comes to life through members’ stories and shared experiences. Goad maps laid out on the tables are there to provoke conversation between the participants, but it is the adverts from local shop windows which create the greatest response. Memories are sparked by vintage adverts and discussion leads to the layout of Lancaster town centre and the shops which have since closed down. Tripe shops, clog shops and hardware stores were common in Lancaster town centre. There were no supermarket chains and everything was tailored to one’s personal needs.  Everyone knew everyone else, where they shopped and what they wanted. The shopkeeper’s relationship with the customer went beyond that of vendor and purchaser. The shop keeper was likely to be a friend, neighbour or even a family member. The sense of community Lancaster used to have is a hot topic among the history group.  The shopkeeper treated the customer with respect rather than just seeing him as a source of revenue. One member of the group referred to a major shopping chain as a ‘conveyor belt of customers’.   The group also commented on how we now live in a throwaway society- consider the excessive amount of packaging which comes with anything you buy. All products are now standardised and no longer come with any kind of personal touch as they used to. Each supermarket has its own range but underneath all the packaging, it’s all the same.

In earlier times much less food was thrown away than is the case today. What we would now regard as scraps were kept and reused to provide further meals. One older resident said ‘we used to ask the butcher for a bone for the dog. Everyone knew we didn’t have a dog, we just needed something to eat’. The end of market day was also a time to gather food for a meal. Local traders would give scraps to children from poor families rather than just discarding them. Whywas so little thrown away in earlier times? Because people couldn’t afford to discard potentially usable items of food.

What does all this add up to? So far as retailing is concerned, the past really is ‘another country’. They did things differently there. Was it better in earlier times? The residents we spoke to thought it was, many no longer shop in Lancaster but go further a field.