My council colleague Jo Mowatt, Conservative Councillor for City Centre, was on the radio this week. I don’t get angry that often by what colleagues say but I did find what Jo said particularly disappointing and I wrote to her afterwards to say so.
She was on about “chuggers” in the city centre. Now I don’t like the word “chuggers”, standing as it does for “charity muggers”, and therefore seeking to conflate a genuinely harrowing experience – being mugged on the street – with some young people asking members of the public to support a cause. And I genuinely don’t get why some people get so worked up about street fundraising.
I have worked about 50 yards off Princes Street for 15 years. I am in the city centre every day. On the odd occasion that I am asked to stop for a moment by one of the street fundraisers I always – always – find that a polite “No thank you” is sufficient. Going by her radio interview, Jo has to “fend off” 3 or 4 “chuggers” every day. Either I have a particularly forbidding countenance which heads off approaches in the first place or Cllr Mowatt is guilty of a tiny bit of hyperbole.
I do fear that this is one area where public opinion is being moulded by vested interests. Our city centres and high streets have become very dull and sanitised these last 20 years, characterised by huge corporations which delight in offering the same bland fare irrespective of context. I don’t doubt that these corporations don’t like buskers and bright young people seeking our support for charitable causes. But that does not mean that we need to buy the corporate vision.
So by all means let us curb the very occasional excess of enthusiasm and make sure that polite interaction is the norm. But let’s see street activity as an asset as well.