28th August 1996
Dear Haringey Council,
As a parent and resident of Tower Gardens Rd.,I am writing to voice my concern about the recent corporate takeover of our local park and playscheme's Funday. The local park is a focal point for the community's children, and the after school's club and playscheme provide a wonderful service keeping local children safely and happily stimulated during the holidays.
I was shocked therefore to see that the end of summer Funday to celebrate the hardwork and achievements of the playscheme was being advertised locally as a Ronald McDonald event. Through enquiries at the playscheme I found out that the McDonalds corporation were apparently donating £500 from their Head Office to the event. However as it turned out this so called donation was being with-held to the last minute and was not without preconditions:
The presence of McDonalds employees during the Funday was sinister to say the least. At least 12 of them, very few participating in any constructive way. They refused to give their names when asked, although they were strangers to the children and to the local community. Parents who raised objections were followed, harrassed and intimidated. I saw a parent being ordered by a McDonald's employee to 'get away from the kids' as he stood next to his own son!
The children were later lured by a sound system to a marquee - incredibly enough this had cost £250 and was paid for out of the promised donation, yet was commandeered by McDonald's throughout the day. The situation degenerated further as the kids were exhorted by council representatives to root and cheer for Ronald McDonald and thank the company for their own Funday! Watching our children being hyped up to chant corporate slogans and cheer for McDonald's I felt physically sick and could not dismiss the haunting parrallels with other fascistic groups whipping up crowds into chanting brainwashing slogans. In this case, it was particularly chilling that it was done with very young children who are unable to protect themselves against such propaganda, and who were left utterly defenceless. You could say that the carers invited the wolf into the house and locked the door with the kids inside too.
The Deputy Mayor's call for respect for different cultures was rendered nonsensical as the only culture on offer to our children here was the life enhancing opportunity to purchase a burger. The cultural experience our children were being force fed was that of loyal and unquestioning consumers. Is this the sort of educational stimulus that the Borough of Haringey aims to offer? If so it is selling its children short...to the tune of £500 worth of sponsorship by a multi billion dollar corporation. McDonald's spends 1.8 billion dollars a year on advertising and promoting itself, and makes a similar amount of profits. Their corporate policy regarding promotion and advertising has been summarised by themselves: 'we are competing for a share of the customers mind' and 'children are virgin ground as far as marketing is concerned.'
At this point the Ronald McDonald clown presented the playscheme with a symbolic cheque although the playscheme had yet to receive a penny, and a local councillor called on the children to thank Ronald McDonald for 'this marvellous Funday' although the whole day had clearly been set up and run by the dedicated playscheme staff and the hard work and enthusiasm of the local children and their parents. How humiliating then for their achievement to have been bought by a man in a red fright wig with a phoney cheque!
As I raised my objections to this degrading spectacle I was turned upon and assaulted by a local councillor's member of staff, who had just arrived. She leapt in front of me screaming into my face and had to be restrained by a policeman. I wish to register my strongest protest at this sort of intimidatory and violent verbal assault on a local parent by a stranger to the playscheme and the local community - and with children watching. I demand an explanation and an apology from the person concerned and her employer. How could a local councillor allow herself to be used as an agent for a company?
This whole event raises important questions about the sponsorship of local community projects by private corporations, especially in the light of the ongoing lack of central government funding for local government facilities:
2. What instructions and guidelines are laid down for council employees regarding sponsorship?
3. Are sponsors allowed to dictate a set of preconditions (or indeed ANY preconditions) upon which donations will depend?
4. Are sponsors informed that they will not be considered as a sponsor until the donation has been given?
5. What are the playservice policies regarding the guaranteed protection, safety, health and education of children in its care?
6. Do the playservice expect the above policies to be applied at all times? If not, to whom exactly are we entrusting the care of our children when they participate in essential community projects such as a summer playscheme?
7. What is the policy regarding the behaviour of representatives of: a. sponsoring organisations b. the council at community events, particularly those involving children?