The People's Supermarket: Communal, Cheap and Democratic
By Rosie Millard / telegraph.co.uk
Dec 14, 2010

Would you be willing to spend four hours stacking shelves in a supermarket? Regularly? For nothing? And do a spot on the tills, and quite a lot of floor-mopping? Well, it certainly makes a change from hanging out at Starbucks, I suppose.

As I climb into my overalls, grab a sponge and tell my supervisor I would really prefer the Frozen Lime and Vinegar Mr Muscle over plain Mr Muscle, I get the feeling that Mr Muscle and I, almost like the Coalition, are part of something excitingly new, a shared experience for the austere years ahead. Indeed, The People's Supermarket, which opens at midday on Tuesday in Central London, might just have hit the perfect moment.

I stand on a stool and prepare to clean acres of dusty blue tiles. Meanwhile, second-hand chiller cabinets are being wheeled into place, sturdy men heave in cardboard boxes of Special K from a van outside, and a beef farmer from Devon turns up with a box full of mince. My partner in grime, university lecturer Nuala O'Sullivan, busily scrubs a wooden window-frame.

"There's years of dirt in here, years!" gasps O'Sullivan, who lectures on business psychology at the University of Westminster. What's the psychology of volunteering to work in a supermarket, I wonder. "Routine and ritual," she replies. "That's what you get from religion. It's the same with volunteering. "

Arthur Potts Dawson, the mastermind behind The People's Supermarket, is certainly full of what one might loosely define as organic missionary zeal. A tall, youthful and reasonably optimistic chap who set up the London eco-restaurant Acorn House, (and is vaguely related to Mick Jagger, inter alia), Potts Dawson hopes that once his baby takes off, the likes of Tesco and Asda will be as a bad dream. We will all put in our community service and revel in 1970s-style food bills, while the big boys founder.

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The People's Supermarket: Communal, Cheap and Democratic