Its core product is in decline, and attempts to diversify have failed. Now the Consumers Association needs to find a new role. Stephen Cook reports.
You may not know it yet, but National Consumer Week is coming your way Later this month, pressure groups, lobbyists and campaigners will swing into action and the nation's thoughts will turn to the getting of value for money and the improving of statutory rights. For nearly half a century, one such organisation has stood head-and-shoulders above the rest, championing the rights of the downtrodden shopper and earning itself a special place in British society: the Consumers Association (CA), and its magazine Which?
Over the years it has tested everything from salad-spinners to wheelbarrows, and campaigned against abuses such as unfair contracts and extortionate car prices. It was started in a converted garage in east London by the late Lord Young of Dartington, one of the 20th century's great social innovators, and reached its heyday 20 years ago, when three-quarters of a million people were subscribing to the magazine so that they could flick earnestly through its pages when the time came to buy a music centre or replace the fridge. Since 1995 the association has had the formidable Dame Sheila McKechnie as director, and she's tackling everything from genetically modified foods to the financial services industry, even the giant electrical retailer Dixons. And Which? has great power: Nikon's Coolpix 3100 digital camera saw a 1,000% rise in sales month-on-month after being named as a best buy in the magazine.