Why Was I Taken On A Primary School Trip To Waitrose?

When I was in primary school, I went on a trip to Waitrose with all my classmates. For my school to organise an outing like that did not strike me as odd then in the way it does now. It is a powerful early memory, even if many of the details have faded with time. I remember baking cakes laced with cinnamon and listening to educational talks in a room in the wings of the supermarket.

Reflecting on the experience now, though, it seem odd. I have never returned to Waitrose. However, its enduring impression on me is of trust, quality and community. This is largely due to its reputation. Social media is plastered with tongue in cheek references to their middle class 'essentials' range - from ironing water to rosemary foccacia. It is marketed with a superior and quintessentially British charm.

My generation had one of the most commercially saturated childhoods. I was exposed to unfathomable brands and commercial slogans, shapes and even colours. It has become a truism to say that children more readily recognise the Golden Arches of McDonalds than the Christian crucifix. Yet this school trip feels like a distinctive example. It seems a little bit of a betrayal for my school to advocate a corporate body in such an subtle way.

The class issues involved make it significant. My primary school was in a deprived area, with a high percentage of pupils eligible for school meals, a useful barometer for parental poverty. It made a trip to Waitrose a slightly exotic treat. Our other excursions were to the local beach, the local park and the Natural History Museum, amongst others now forgotten. Taking poor pupils to the affluent person's supermarket is to give them a glimpse of another life. One denied to them because of inequality in society and low British social mobility.

I was lucky because I managed to escape the local comprehensive and was one of three to pass the 11+ in my cohort. Maybe one day I will return to Waitrose as a different person. I will have disposable income and whisper pretentious things that make a ripple on the 'Overheard at Waitrose' social media pages. I hope I never become the sort of middle class person that shops at Lidl but packs it in Waitrose bags to escape the judgement of my suburban neighbours.

There was one other example of corporate invasion into my primary school. I vividly remember being given a permission slip to take home for my parents to sign. The company that produces yoghurt snacks Frubes had offered to give free samples to every pupil and the school was going to allow it conditional on parental approval. Mine were furious. So I returned to school where most of the other children received large cardboard packages with their sugary snacks. At least Waitrose were subtle and added value through their public relations schemes.

Overall, this was genius public relations by Waitrose. PR is my calling other than left wing politics so it does create a difficult tension sometimes. They managed to combine educational value, trust and access to impressionable young minds. A quick internet search yielded some evidence that trips like these continue today. However, the appropriateness of such brazen corporate sponsored education is dubious. Aligning companies with teachers gives businesses a sense of legitimate authority over the development of young people. This is true even if many of them have very laudable corporate social responsibility, community and education initiatives. It is difficult, especially when educational trips can be so useful to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. But generally, school should stay the last safe place from capitalism.
Why Was I Taken On A Primary School Trip To Waitrose? Why Was I Taken On A Primary School Trip To Waitrose? Reviewed by Ciaran McCormick on 22:48 Rating: 5

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