The Olympics in Cardiff – brand policing and jailing the homeless

I’m glad we’ve got some Olympic games here in Cardiff. I’m supportive of the games and like the atmosphere they’ve brought to the city, although I’m not so sure that Trading Standards have handled the whole brand enforcement thing very sensitively with small businesses around the city centre.

My friend Simon who runs Catapult Records in town was on the local news with the Trading Standards guy giving him a rollocking about using the word ‘Olympic’ on their info board outside the shop. What you didn’t see was Simon explaning very patiently to the man that Catapult runs a very successful online mail order business, and while the Olympics are on, all the roads around the city centre are closed and he can’t get deliveries into his shop, which means the business is affected. There’s no compensation or special consideration for him – and yet when he tries to enter into the spirit of the games, he’s told he can’t use the word ‘Olympic’ on a little board outside his shop? Where’s the spirit in that? Do Trading Standards seriously think that anyone is actually going to be persuaded to buy something from a small independent Cardiff shop just because they use the word Olympic in the name of a sandwich?

Of course not. It’s brand policing gone completely insane.

 

The Olympics have also brought out the nastier side of one member of the Cardiff Retail Partnership, a Mr David Hughes-Lewis who runs a jeweller in Cardiff and has demanded that Cardiff police jail all the homeless people in Cardiff for the duration of the Olympics so that visitors to the city don’t get the wrong impression. Too insane to be true? Yes, but read the news story here.

The story, unfortunately, is typical of the Western Mail’s shoddy reporting: completely one sided, with no alternative view sought from any homeless charities. After the story was published, other members of the Cardiff Retail Partnership (like Boots and John Lewis) distanced themselves from Mr Hughes-Lewis’ comments and Shelter Cymru responded with this comment:

“We are talking about people here, not inconvenient rubbish to be cleared away. There are any number of reasons why people end up living on the streets and our casework has shown time and time again how easily people can find themselves in a crisis and facing homelessness.”

Even the BBC Wales reporting on the story was pretty slack – they filmed two homeless people for comment, one of whom was ex-army and appeared to have suffered some kind of post traumatic stress (and who was so out of it you couldn’t understand a word he said).

I was really saddened by the comments initially made by David Hughes-Lewis. His complaints were relevant – he’d had people leaving rubbish outside his shop, weeing on his shop’s doorstep. But surely even he realises that just jailing them for a couple of months while the games are on won’t achieve anything. Shutting them away for the duration of the games will achieve nothing. There are a lot of reasons why people end up on the street. Aren’t we better off trying to find ways to keep them off it for good rather than filling up our cells with people who are in desperate need of help?

My other gripe is with his presumption that Cardiff needs ‘cleaning up’ so people don’t get the wrong impression when they visit. Unfortunately, we have people who live on the street here. Just moving them around while the games are on doesn’t change anything. In fact, it gives a false impression of the city. As someone who works hard to improve Cardiff’s reputation, I don’t say that lightly. But this city is everyone that lives in it: the homed, the homeless, and all the people in between, and I don’t buy into the idea that we need to hide any single ‘group’ to prove what a great place Cardiff is. The fact is, it’s a great place, with all those groups included.

If we’re really serious about helping people get off the streets, it should be a long term aim and an aspiration, not just short term and ‘under the carpet’. What happens when they’re back on the street? They’re still going to need to wee somewhere, aren’t they? And if I knew who had put me away, I’d know exactly which doorstep I’d head to first to relieve myself.

Dic Mortimer has written far more eloquently on this subject on his blog, I’d suggest you go over there and read that.

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