The army has set up its first-ever showroom in the main shopping mall in Dalston Kingsland. There are frequently anti-war protesters out the front, as you can see from the picture (left) although when I went almost everyone was walking straight past.
The recruitment centre has been criticised for having a ‘battlefield simulator’ (see picture, below) set up in a small room out the back, where you can shoot at a video screen using a replica AF80. A spokeswoman from Mothers against Guns said that this was ‘grossly insensitive to house the showroom in a borough that has been plagued by gun violence.’ (Hackney Gazette)
When I went in to check it out there didn’t seem to be much recruiting going on – and there is a soldier guarding the door which isn’t welcoming.
The soldiers were happy to explain what they were doing there, and were well-briefed to answer queries. Here were some of mine:
What would you say to anti-war protesters who claim that you are deliberately targeting a poor borough with high unemployment? ‘This is the first ‘shopfront’ we have opened in the UK. We will be rolling out more across the country, and one is opening up in Hounslow next week. There is no special reason for it being in this area and not somewhere else. We won’t be glorifying war – there will be a realities of war film playing, to show what happens if the political process goes wrong. We will be giving personal accounts of what it is like to go to Iraq or Afghanistan, for example, and we will answer questions we think are appropriate.
Do you think it’s OK to recruit in a shopping mall? I have no ethical doubts about being in a shopping mall at all. Office Angels recruit from here, why shouldn’t the army? People can come and look at what we do and decide for themselves. Just because people don’t like it, it doesn’t mean the need for an army will go away. We have been recruiting for hundreds of years and will continue to do so.We are opening a shop to encourage people who may not go to an ordinary army recruitment centre, or who may feel that they are not eligible for the army because, for example, they have a criminal record.
So you can join the army with a criminal record? We assess it on a case-by-case basis.
Meanwhile, the Stop the War website takes a different view, stating: Opening the first ‘show room’ in Hackney is no accident. The Army is targeting one of the poorest boroughs in London, where unemployment (particularly among youth) is high and is getting worse because of the economic crisis. Hackney has 37 claimants for every new job. The Army clearly hopes that young people will buy a dream as a way out of the despair of joblessness. The government should not be spending money on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (close to £10 billion so far). Instead it should be investing in real jobs and careers.
The soldiers told me they are receiving around 7 queries a day.