Episode 3 – Megan Clark-Bagnall – Learnings from Little Chef for the New Art World
In this podcast artist Megan Clark-Bagnall tries to find a working methodology for the new art world based on learnings taken from the demise of Little Chef restaurants in the UK.
The Bricks Podcast follow Bristol’s contemporary artists, on journeys within the city walls and beyond, along the leylines of the South West, up the A roads north, and through their unique observations on the world.
Produced by Rowan Bishop, commissioned and co-produced by Jack Gibbon and Jessica Akerman of Bricks. Original music by @rowanbishop.
Where the A16 meets the A17 near Spalding on the Sutterton Roundabout, there used to be a Little Chef. The old brown diner building has since been turned into three fast food conveniences: one part Subway, one part Burger King & one part Greggs.
This was the twelfth Little Chef that Owen and I visited, out of the final surviving not thriving 41 Little Chefs, before the chain closed permanently on 31st January 2019.
When we first approached the Little Chef (which had a variety of haulage trucks parked up outside) we soon noticed a sign on the door that read “Due to an electricity fault, we are running from a limited menu”. Inside, branch manager Adam told us they had been without a working grill for over a fortnight and were struggling to cook food. Head Office by that point had closed and so there was no-one to respond to the staff’s plea for help in getting the grill back up and working, or sorting out the missing food deliveries from their suppliers. Adam informed us that the branch (empty as it was that day, tumbleweed style empty) did have regular elderly clientele that would pop into the branch for their weekly trip out of the house via taxi ride. The only thing on offer was scrambled (microwaved) eggs on toast and tea, and these items were only available because the staff brought in their own toaster and kettle to replace the defunct items in the kitchen.
The penny sort of dropped for Owen & I at this point. We were doing our photography road trip project of the Little Chefs, exploring the scenery and sites but until this point like many others we’d almost made jokes about the disgrace of Little Chef. About their slow demise and make comments like “how are they even still going?” but we didn’t care enough until this point to actually find out more about the demise. The low morale of staff forced to front slowing diminishing diners up and down the country was evident. Little Chef’s were often under the radar community centres. Time changes and because the cars started to go faster and longer without needing to rest, and McDonalds kick started Drive-Through culture, we changed not just without question, but without thinking. What else went without thought was what the Little Chef’s of the world meant to people. And what certainly went without investigation was how the large corporations that owned Little Chef treated their employees with care-less and thought-less consideration.
We’re at a junction now with the pandemic.
The arts sectors have been forced into stopping and/or changing course…
Without reflecting on what art in the world was like before the pandemic, considering how art should be post the pandemic and exploring the possibilities for creative connection during the pandemic, the arts industry within the world, could continue like Little Chef did.. without thought, question or care.
…. if we continue without thought, consideration or care, the arts industry might end up like the recently defunct Little Chef on the A16/A17. This Little Chef isn’t empty and boarded up, like some others. It wasn’t completely demolished either, like some others. But it’s taken on a new Grab&Go only lease of life, co-hosted by Subway, Burger King & Greggs. This new existence doesn’t provide chairs for the elderly regulars to sit down once a week and be together. I imagine the weekly taxi rides out of the house have stopped.
This old diner now only caters for able bodied grabbers and goers who want to pop in for a vegan sausage roll, foot long sub or double cheese burger, which they will probably multitask alongside their clutch control and steering wheels as they speedily travel onwards to their final destination, leaving little time for digestion or taking in the view via the scenic route.
I was made up to be commissioned to make this podcast.
It’s allowed me time to chat to some amazing people and consider for myself where I am going next as a social artist, how I should view myself and which roads to navigate as I travel along…
Find out more about these fantastic people & their projects & ideas here :
Oliver Hyam, Little Chef Fan currently on a mission to visit all the old Little Chef sites in the UK.
Rich Cross, Motorway Service Station Enthusiast, the author behind MotorwayServicesOnline.co.uk on Twitter: @RichCross98
Matthew Whittle – Co-Director of The Wardrobe Theatre on Twitter: @Matthew_Whittle
Jesse Meadows – The Wardrobe Ensemble on Twitter: @_JesseMeadows_
Jack Gibbon, Director of Bricks on Twitter: @jackgibbon_
Simon Alper, Eldest son of Sam Alper OBE (who established Little Chef in 1958)
Dr Tarek Virani, Associate Professor – Creative Industries, UWE Bristol