Why do we only hear one side of society in Sherborne's Tesco spat?

The town's working class population have been left out of this debate

Share
Related Topics

In the sleepy Dorset town of Sherborne, which boasts two
castles and an abbey among its 360 listed buildings, a storm has been brewing.

Much has been made of my hometown’s fierce protests against Tesco, which plans to tear down a nearby hotel and replace it with a superstore.

Residents fear the store would cripple local businesses, scare off tourists and eventually grow into an unsightly boil on the face of one of England’s most peaceful and scenic towns. 

Sherbornites – as they affectionately refer to themselves – have responded to Tesco’s mooted expansion with a petition of over 3600 signatures online, and an estimated 10,000 on paper. They even reeled in former Blue Peter presenter Valerie Singleton to join them on a march, in which local shopkeepers bravely boarded up their windows to signify the desolation a superstore could inflict on the high street.

As soon as the national press picked up the story, it was swiftly moulded into the “David & Goliath” media narrative:  the plight of the townspeople against a heartless retail juggernaut.

But there is another side to this picturesque Wessex town which has hitherto evaded the media’s gaze.

Plummy

Sherborne is largely characterized by its abundance of elderly, wealthy and well-educated inhabitants, many of whom held high-powered jobs in the City before retirement. They make up around one third of its population according to the Sunday Times, who also placed it in their list of the best British towns last week.

Nonetheless, Sherborne is not inhabited exclusively by the elderly and the privileged. There are several council estates in the northern areas where families are struggling to keep living costs down, pay the bills, and eat well at a reasonable price. Some are struggling to afford even one out of those three necessities. This slight but significant working class contingency has received little attention in recent coverage of this small-town spat gone big. But they are still there.

The reality is that a store like Tesco, for all of its flaws and dubious side effects, would offer affordable food and clothing to those in Sherborne who need it.

The lack of attention to their side of the story seems benign at first. But it ought to strike a note of caution about an underlying snobbishness towards the encroachment of working class culture in Sherborne and other market towns like it.

Just take a look at the photographs and video footage online of the dispute, which is dominated by fuming, plummy-voiced residents in Barbour jackets and tweed caps, broken up now and then by a sound bite from Val off Blue Peter.

Even the local vicar has waded into the broil of this profoundly middle-class battlefield. In the Mail Online’s coverage, there is a snap of him railing against the retail giant with gusto, bedecked in grand black and scarlet ministerial robes.  It is puzzling to see a senior member of the Church publicly denounce a business venture that might help out the most financially vulnerable in the local community.

This is not a slight on Sherborne’s wealthier and/or more pious residents – I am told for instance that Sherborne Abbey is part of the town’s Chamber of Commerce, which explains their stance on the affair – but it clearly reflects a whiff of apathy towards others in the town who are really straining under the weight of our current economic climate.

Class division

Let’s be clear: there is no question a Tesco in Sherborne could pose a threat to its gifted local businesses, which deserve as much support as they can get. It is also crucial that the town’s identity as a hotbed for tourism and Dorset beauty spot remains intact.  Those who express concerns on these grounds, as well as stressing the need for more hotels in Sherborne to maintain its excellent tourism prospects , are absolutely right to do so.

Yet in my experience of the town, where I grew up and whose local comp I attended,there has always been a palpable, occasionally even hostile, sense of class division. Among younger generations this is largely because pupils at the only state school in town are vastly outnumbered by the whopping five independent schools that Sherborne also plays host to. The recent anti-Tesco furore has revealed this internal division more clearly than any inter-school rugby match could ever aspire to do.

Class-motivated gripes aside, Sherborne is a fascinating town steeped in rich history. Tourists would be foolish to miss out on its stunning architecture and its many friendly, charismatic residents

But I fear that in the public eye these anti-Tesco protests are beginning to appear less akin to a modern David & Goliath narrative and more like a caricature of middle-England at its most snobbish.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The reign of the cupcake may be at an end  

Gluten-free diets reveal more about Western anxieties than they do about the protein

Memphis Barker
 

Letter from the Whitehall Editor: The spurious Tory endorsement that misfired

Oliver Wright
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence