In 2008 a mural by the legendary street artist Banksy appeared on the side of a pharmacy in north London.

It depicted a group of children below a flagpole. Instead of raising a flag, they paid homage to a Tesco bag with its famous Tesco blue logo printed on the side.

The piece was tagged ‘Very Little Helps’ and has been interpreted as reflecting Banksy’s disapproval of Tesco’s dominance on the high street and its impact on “the little guy”.

In the same year, a website for Tesco staff launched under the same ironic title. While Banksy has gone on to become a cult figure, currently being celebrated by a sellout exhibition in Glasgow, became a frequently used forum not just for thousands of Tesco staff but for national journalists, retail experts and, whether they like to admit it or not, Tesco management and PR teams eager to find out the latest rants from the frontline.

Then this week came news that the anonymous founder of the site, known to users simply as Nomad, had died.

“It is with great sadness that I have to announce that Nomad (Dad, Eddie) passed away on August 11th 2023, at the age of 76!” wrote his son (Littlenomad).

“VLH had been his little project for many years (since 2008). In due course I will decide what to do with the site, for now I will stop accepting new donations,” wrote Littlenomad.

The news has saddened staff who follow the site, many of them describing Very Little Helps as a community which allowed them a voice, in a different way to other staff groups or unions.

Allowed a community a voice in a different way

Since its inception, the site has been something of a Tesco WikiLeaks, the source of numerous revelations surrounding forthcoming management shake-ups, store closures and disputes over pay, as well as many, seemingly more trivial, employment issues.

Its concoction of keyboard warriors with usernames taken from Game of Thrones characters conjured images of lonely nights in bedsits after a hard shift at the DC. It was comic, but at the same time got to the heart of shopworkers’ everyday concerns.

Sometimes a vehicle for staff with an axe to grind, looking for a forum in which to vent their anger, Very Little Helps was also the source for a number of important grocery stories over the years. Whilst it is unlikely to admit it publicly, it was a thorn in the side of the supermarket on the occasions when its handling of major staffing issues, in particular, could have been better communicated.

You will be missed by us all

On the news of Nomad’s passing, one user posted: “This site has been a vital source of knowledge, reassurance and camaraderie for many over the years.

“We are all grateful for the hard work of your father to create this uniquely safe environment. People have felt able to discuss sometimes highly personal or controversial situations securely without fear of work-related consequences – an opportunity not available anywhere else.”

Another regular poster said: “I am so so sorry for your loss. Eddie – a beautiful kind generous soul. Always been kind to me personally. It is through him and his dedication in helping others that enabled us all over many years to come together. Eddie… thank you my friend. You will be missed by us all.”

As Tesco frequently used to point out, VLH only represented the views of the minority of its staff who used the site, not to mention all the hangers-on that followed the gossip and didn’t even work for Tesco. But Nomad was also quick to point out if users posting on the site had overstepped the mark by allowing their grievances to go too far.

So as decisions are made about the future of the site, many this week will have their imaginary Very Little Helps flag flying at half-mast.