A most surreal week. We got out Issue 6 of The Beestonian after a torturous production process: however we’re now online: http://issuu.com/thebeestonian , all back issues are there for you to peruse without trekking up to one of our distributors.
However, things got truly bizarre on Wednesday. This was the day I’ve been waiting for for several months, the presentation of the Wilkos petition to full council.
We got a good turn out, Beestonians and Wilkos staff packed the public benches, easily the largest attendance I’ve ever seen at the Town Hall. We were the second petition after Cllr. Ray Darby, and Cllr. Janet Patrick (read her piece on the campaign here: http://www.janetpatrick.org.uk/ presented the thousands of signatures, neatly tied together with a black ribbon, and gave a rousing speech to the chamber.
The debate began, with Cllr. Owen (Cons, Nuthall) kicked things off by spectacularly misjudging the mood and blaming things on the tram, attempting to make a positive discussion negative. No surprise really; she seems to have to say something batshit crazy at every meeting. Previous gems include her claim that global warming was false, accusing Cllr Watts of anti-christian behavior for not using the word ‘Christmas’ in a meeting of seasonal celebrations, leading to Watts, a lay-preacher, replying to her with a lusty ‘What utter rot’.
Once Owen had done her off-line equivalent of internet trolling, the council rose in turn to praise the Wilko’s staff, the campaign, and I even got a few mentions from politicians of all political stripe, which was nice. It’s weird to go from being an observer of meetings to being a subject, and if I didn’t have a sense of restraint I’d bang on about how it was all very post-modern and meta, grow a goatee and smoke Gauloise and sip Ricard.
But I do, so I shan’t. What was incredible was how aware the council have become that this is a major issue for Beeston, so thanks to all of you for supporting the campaign and signing the petition: we got this in the public eye first, and then we got it into the chamber and the consciousness of councillors.
That’s not all. Things got even more odd, and in a very good way. When a petition reaches a certain size, it automatically triggers a debate in the chamber, up to a maximum length of 15 minutes. The quarter of an hour flew by, and still more councillors were queuing to speak, so a swift vote was taken and it was unanimously agreed to extend the debate for another quarter of an hour. Beeston North Cllr Carr, even asked if their was a way that a motion could be proposed and voted on to send a strong message of support to the Wilkos workers that the Council were fully committed to work with Henry Boot Developers and Wilkinson’s Head Office to find a swift solution. This is unprecedented: a proposal to effectively change the constitution to endorse a campaign. Sadly, this couldn’t be done, but by then I knew that one of the aims of the campaign; to ensure the council fully backed the staff and the rapid return of the store; had been achieved. But what next?
I had a brief chat to the acting head of the ruling partnership, Beeston Central Cllr. Pat Lally. He also assured me that things were in motion and a solution was on the horizon, but issues of commercial confidentiality prevented him from telling me more.
I understand how delicate negotiations must be. Henry Boot have some major plans for Beeston Square, and where Wilkinsons fit into these (if at all) is a red-hot topic. Henry Boot are notoriously skittish on this subject, and seem unable to commit to anything. This has effectively led to the running-down of Beeston precinct; I recently recieved a tweet that described walking off the bus to the Square as akin to ‘walking through a Eastern-European, Soviet era slum. In a bad winter’. Henry Boot have been so close on so many occasions to signing an agreement to get development started, but have jilted the Council at the altar each time.
I call on Henry Boot and Wilkinsons to issue statements in support for the retention of Wilkos and the protection of the workers jobs.By all means keep your negotiations behind closed doors, but do throw us some crumbs. An ex-Beestonian blogger now studying PR in Leeds recently wrote a good piece about the Wilkos campaign (http://rachelbarkley.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/managing-a-social-media-micro-crisis/) which pointed out that Beestonia is the only real source of information on the web for whats happening in Wilkos. What the devil are there PR staff do all day?? As we were originally told that the gap in trading was to be ‘a few weeks, maybe months’ and now hear that it could be ‘at least five years’ are hardly heartening. The occasion statement saying you’re ‘committed to Beeston’ is cold-comfort to the workers facing an uncertain future.
If Henry Boot and Wilkos want to send me their opinions on the issue, I will publish them unedited and in their entirety. Keep us in the picture, let us see that you are sorting this. The Council now realise this, and you have to too. Your staff, and all Beestonians, deserve nothing less.
We got a good write up in the Post, both in an article in the news section and a Leader column praising the way the campaign was conducted. Far from being the end of the campaign, I think we could see things escalate soon. I gave an article to the Notingham Post yesterday and am keen to also get BBC Nottingham to follow up their previous stirling job in covering our efforts. Thanks to the Nottingham Post for the publicity, but I can’t say the same for The Beeston Express, who chose not to give any aspect of the campaign a mention, except for the printing of a couple of letters that miss the point entirely, by saying ‘you can buy stuff from Wilkos in other shops’. Oh well.