Imagine a city free from corporate advertising. The AdFree Cities Network share their vision…
Did you notice anything different about billboards during the lockdowns? Usually paper-and-paste billboards and bus shelter adverts are changed every couple of weeks, and we get new ads on our high streets pushing Tesco, KFC, Coca-Cola, big cars and fast fashion. But back in Spring 2020, as life slowed down and people stayed at home, the new ads stopped coming. Billboard posters went unchanged for weeks or months and were left ripped and fading.
Others began to take advantage of this. Art began to appear in place of big brand advertising, spreading inspiring messages of community and justice. We were gifted a glimpse of a world without consumer advertising, with something else hinted at instead. And it felt good. During this time, too, the Adfree Cities network was born.
A brief history: back in 2017 we launched a campaign called Adblock Bristol with a vision to make Bristol the first UK city to be free from billboards and other corporate outdoor advertising. Two years later we held our first ever national conference, kindly supported by Unicorn. Since then, more Adblock groups have sprung up around the UK. So in 2020 we launched Adfree Cities to support this new network.
There are now volunteer-led Adblock groups in Cardiff, Leeds, Birmingham, Exeter, Norwich, Colchester, Lambeth and Bristol. We have a shared vision: we want happier, healthier cities free from the pressures of corporate outdoor advertising. We are seeking alternatives beyond consumerism: we celebrate community connection, solidarity, public art and nature.
These groups work with their communities to prevent new digital advertising screens, and look for opportunities to get existing billboards removed by the council. This year we will be lobbying candidates in the local and mayoral elections to make pledges to reduce and restrict outdoor advertising. And we’ll continue to showcase positive alternatives to advertising in public spaces, like this artwork installed on our community arts board in Bristol in 2020 which celebrates the life of grassroots revolutionary Angela Francis.
We’re thrilled that Unicorn is supporting our regional groups in 2021. With this support, they can lobby their local council to restrict advertising for harmful products like junk food, gambling, polluting cars and airline flights. They can build community campaigns to remove corporate advertising in favour of public art, a community garden or simply space free from consumer messages. Or they can organise events on the social and environmental impacts of advertising and the opportunities for change.
There isn’t yet a group in Greater Manchester, do you want to start one? Please get in touch to find out how we can support you, or visit www.adfreecities.org.uk/get-involved