Yarl’s Wood 14

I’m getting rather used to the ride from Bedford Station to Yarls Wood, going up through Clapham and then a mile or so on a cycle path beside the A6 befgore turning up the hill from Milton Ernest to the meeting point for protesters in front of the Twinwoods gates. That final hill is long and steep, though it’s something of shock to look at the OS map and find I’ve only climbed around 45 metres (around 150 ft) as it feels much more.

This was the 14th protest that Movement for Justice have organised, bringing many former detainees with them, with coaches from London and elsewhere. I could have joined them in London, but that would add another 3 or 4 hours to what is already a long day for me – and one that leaves me with perhaps another 3 or 4 hours to select, process and caption the pictures I’ve taken. It would be rather quicker if I didn’t keep dozing off at the keyboard while doing it, my finger on a key sending Lightroom into a frenzy of paging through the images which takes minutes to recover. And sometimes the doze is deep enough for my nose to hit the keyboard…

MfJ have come in for considerable criticism following their treatment of one member over a personal issue, which has led to a number of groups refusing to work with them. While some of the criticisms appear to be justified, others suggested a remarkable ignorance about the organisation, which has never hidden its background and organisation. It isn’t something I would join, but I admire and am happy to support the stand they have taken on several issues, and particularly on immigration and immigration detention.

But the controversy has meant smaller protests at Yarls Wood, which is a shame, although there has been a rival protest on another date which perhaps helps to keep up the pressure on the issue. And the absence of some of the other groups has made the evident support that the MfJ gets from former detainees even more obvious. However MfJ decides on and organises the events, it is the former detainees who make the great majority of the speeches and lead most of the chanting and other activities during the protests, and my pictures show this clearly.

It’s clear too how welcome the protests are to those people, women and families, held inside Yarl’s Wood who are able to get to one of the windows which overlook the protest, or to make contace with the protesters by mobile phone, despite the efforts of the guards inside to keep them away. It’s difficult to photograph the windows through the close grid of the top 10 feet of fence, and the windows have limiters to only allow an inch or two of opening, but one woman has managed to get both hards through the narrow gap and make a heart shape with her fingers, surrounded by messages for help.

It’s something of a trek back from the field where the protest takes place to the road, through several fields and a short stretch of byway, and the fields are heavy going on a bicycle, often easier to get off and walk than to try and ride.  It it’s been wet there is mud which is slippery and soon builds up between wheel and mudguard on the Brompton, stopping the wheels from turning, and when the ground is dry the mud hardens into ridges and furrows which jolt the arms and can even throw you off the bike.

But once back on the road you can relax in the long downhill stretch to the A6,  though it’s annoying to have to brake for a few wiggles as you get near the main road. And when you leave the A6 cycle path to go up to the old road trough Clapham the first quarter mile is a steep climb. I have cycled all the way up, but its taxing, and this time I got off and walked, and even that was exhausting. But then its largely a gentle downhill all the way to the station and I had plenty of time to relax on a slow train to St Pancras.

Shut Down Yarl’s Wood 14


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