Friday, 11 July 2008

End of the sandwich board is nigh so shoppers will not be lost for words

From The Times

July 11, 2008

Sandwich boards in London in the late Seventies. The walking adverts are said to be off-putting for shoppers

Sandwich boards in London in the late Seventies. The walking adverts are said to be off-putting for shoppers

Fiona Hamilton, London Correspondent

Since the early 19th century, when tradesmen hoisted them on to their backs to flaunt silk wares and fine foods, the sandwich board has played an integral role in the commerce of London. Nowadays they are more likely to advertise two-for-one meals, cheap theatre tickets or tanning salons, but they remain a regular fixture in the West End.

Now the sandwich-board men are about to be driven from the teeming pavements and consigned to history.

Westminster City Council will use new legislation to remove sandwich boards and advertising placards permanently from the streets next month. Under the new laws, sandwich-board men and the companies they advertise face fines of up to £2,500 if they fail to comply with the ban.

Westminster, which believes that other authorities in London will follow its lead, said it was taking steps to remove the clutter from the West End to improve the experience for shoppers. On any given day, more than 100 portable signs are carried through London’s leading shopping streets. The workers who wield them are often paid as little as £4 an hour to stand for up to ten hours promoting anything from sports sales to restaurants and language schools.

Sandwich boards in years past served a spiritual purpose with zealous wearers often using them to tell passers-by that the end of the world was nigh, doom was upon us and that Jesus died for our sins.

The traditional sandwich boards, worn over the shoulders with front and back advertising messages, have gradually given way to larger signs on high poles, which can be spotted from a distance. Many of the sandwich-board men in Oxford Street were ambivalent about their fate yesterday.

Ionut Draghici, who passes the time listening to music on his iPod, said it was a “rubbish” job and he would not miss it. “It’s kind of bad, I have to stand outside for eight hours and it’s boring. But I have to pay for my house. £4 an hour pays for my food, rent and travel, but nothing else.”

Lukasz Rola, 31, was disappointed to hear that his job would soon disappear. While admitting that he often got bored and the pay was not good, he enjoyed working by himself and said that holding a placard was “easy”. Mr Rola, who has been paid £4.50 an hour for six years since he came to London from Poland, said that he would have difficulties finding other work as he had no qualifications and did not speak perfect English.

“What can I do if they ban this? I try to find somewhere else. This is not a proper job you can do all the time. But I am not an educated man, I have no skills. It is not so bad.”

Charity fundraisers and religious preachers, familiar sights around Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets, will be confined to designated areas.Daniel Astaire, a Westminster councillor, said that “cheap and ugly” signs were blighting areas such as Oxford Street and Covent Garden. “This is a world-class city, not a junk yard. No one wants to fight their way past neon-coloured makeshift signs.”

The change is part of a £10 million plan, spearheaded by New West End Company, a retailer association, to improve the ambience of the shopping district. Other moves include improving access for pedestrians, creating open spaces away from shops, reducing crime and providing better street lighting. Richard Dickinson, the association’s chief executive, said that a “zero-tolerance” strategy towards advertising placards was a necessary measure to compete with sophisticated shopping districts abroad.

The measures are open to councils under the London Authority Act, which gives them powers to regulate mobile advertising. Previously they had control only over fixed advertisements such as posters.

Sandwich-board men and their employers will be given notice about the new rules in the West End over the next two weeks, and inspectors will be on the streets next month.

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