I live in a place called Wanstead. If you live in London, it’s on the Central Line loop; if you don’t, it’s to the east. Wanstead is nice. My Dad is always saying: “What I don’t get about this London is that even when a place is nice, there’s something really grim just round the corner.”
He’s right, of course, but he lives in Warwick. And that is basically the posh Midlands. So, he’s a bit spoilt. But Wanstead – when it comes to London and it’s rather frustrating mix of nice and grim – is fairly grand. That sense of grandness is provided by the wide, tree-lined streets, some splendid period architecture and some lovely open spaces, such as the green on the High Street and Wanstead Park.
The village – if you can call Wanstead a village when it’s five minutes from the M11 and served by two Underground stations – has managed to retain a strong identity, particularly as the rest of east London is either being smashed for the Olympics or going to the dogs (or not, in the case of the former dog track at Walthamstow Stadium).
Then last week, a Tesco opened on the Wanstead High Street. It’s been a source of conjecture, debate and protestation. The store takes the place of a former Woolworth’s (RIP, you good retail friend). The protests against the store have been long and loud (hence the delay in the store opening). A particularly vocal compaigner has been a chap called Ashley Gunstock, who admitted using the Leytonstone Tesco branch after being ‘outed’ by a local newspaper. It’s been that sort of debate.
People objecting to the store say Tesco will kill shops on the High Street. Like elsewhere in the UK, shops are always opening and closing in Wanstead – and I guess the presence of a retail giant is hardly likely to help the independents. And the community of Wanstead – and it does have a nice community; we know all our lovely neighbours – seem keen to ensure the shop is empty.
Which is why I was surprised to see people virtually fighting to get into the Tesco earlier this week, while the local Co-op – which is normally packed – was the retail equivalent of the Mary Celeste: “It’s always like this now,” said one of the workers to me at the Co-op.
Change, eh? Who needs it? Virtually everyone, it would seem.