Buy Nowt! Bradford’s thrifty antidote to Black Friday shopocalypse goes international

Emilee Geist

Buy Nowt Day 2019, Bradford (Bradford District Credit Union)
Buy Nowt Day 2019, Bradford (Bradford District Credit Union)

When asked her opinion of Black Friday, Deb Collett is as frank and forthright as you might expect from a woman born and bred in notoriously spendthrift Yorkshire .

“A nonsense,” she tells The Independent. “What do companies like Amazon need a special day for? They’re trying to get us buying things 365 days a year.”

She has, instead, come up with a very Bradford alternative: Buy Nowt Friday.

Every year since 2016, in increasingly bigger venues across the city, she has helped run a festival of, well, not buying anything.

Last November, some 300 people piled into the central Theatre In The Mill complex in Centenary Square to enjoy make-do-and-mend-workshops, upcycling sessions, free use of sewing machines, and food experts offering advice on how to turn leftovers into mini feasts.

There was live music, and a mock confessional booth where visitors could cleanse their soul of any spending splurges they regretted. In one corner, a printing press was set up to make free Christmas cards; in another was a decoration-making area. Tinned foods were given away.

Now, this year, in our coronavirus age, the event cannot be physically held, so it’s going postal and online – and international.

“We’ve got some American involvement,” says Collett, “So we’ve had a few conversations where we’ve had to explain what ‘nowt’ means.”

More of which shortly.

For now, the original inspiration came after the 63-year-old sensed an increasing wariness among Bradfordians with the constant demands to spend, spend and then spend some more at this time of year.

In a city ranked the 13th most deprived area in England and where wages are the fifth lowest in the country – and which was hit with some of the UK’s most savage austerity cuts – she felt people, especially young families, needed a place to escape the pressures of Black Friday.

“It’s rampant consumerism,” she says. “And you cannot get away from it. You only need to look at your phone or a newspaper at this time of year, and you’re being told you need to buy something. It’s oppressive. And for a lot of people it’s exclusionary, certainly in a place like Bradford, because we don’t all have the money to be able to just buy what we want.”

As a project coordinator with the city’s Artworks Creative Communities charity, she suggested running a day-long event which would offer a sanctury from splashing cash. And, so, Buy Nowt Friday was born. Bradford District Credit Union and children’s charity Barnardo’s and the city council have all since come on board.

Those who turn up, it seems, are not only promised a good time but all manner of money advice too.

“We’re not promoting an ascetic lifestyle or anything like that,” says Collett. “We’re just saying there are other things to life than this shopocalpyse. It’s about trying to connect with our human value again. We understand people need to buy things but, even then, we suggest why not buy local? Amazon doesn’t need your money.”

The day taps into a wider international movement – Buy Nothing Day – which started in Canada in the 1990s and falls on the Saturday after Black Friday, and has seen people host sit-ins in department stores and hold mass credit card cut ups down the years.

Now, this localised version is itself going global.

Because this year’s festival has had to be cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions, some 10,000 creativity bundles – paints, card, advice on debt management – have been sent to addresses in the city’s most impoverished neighbourhoods, while food normally given away at the event will be donated to local food banks instead.

But there will also be an international element: a day of participation webinars based around promoting financial inclusion will feature speakers from Bradford, as well as oter areas of the UK and the US.

“In that way, this will actually be the biggest Buy Nowt we’ve done yet – certainly we are having a wider reach – and we will look to do that again in future years,” says Ian Brewer of Bradford District Credit Union. “But, of course, we’re very much about that physical event. We’re looking forward to being back in 2021.”

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