Posts Tagged ‘community’

Magna Carta Under Threat

Sunday, June 12th, 2022

Magna Carta Under Threat – Runnymede Eco Village 12 June 2015

Police question people and refuse to allow them to enter the site

On 15th June 1215, rebel barons forced King John to sign a royal charter of rights at a meeting at Runnymede, just a short bike ride from where I live. According to Wikipedia, “it promised the protection of church rights, protection for the barons from illegal imprisonment, access to swift justice, and limitations on feudal payments to the Crown.” While good news for the church and the barons, it had little to offer the common men, and neither side took much notice of it and was in any case rapidly annulled by the Pope.

Tea and cakes inside the Long House at Runnymede Eco-Village

Two years later after the death of John and a war by the Barons a revised version was part of the peace treaty, and this was then given the name Magna Carta, as there was another smaller Charter of the Forest also agreed between the parties in 2017. This re-established the rights of free men in royal forests which the Normans had largely removed, at the same time making about a third of the land in the south of England into royal forests, giving rights to collect firewood, burn charcoal, graze pigs and other animals and cut turf – all vital activities for keeping alive.

Getting the festival stage ready

Although the legal significance of Magna Carta soon faded away, it re-emerged from the 16th century on as it became seen as the basis for the English constitution, restoring the freedoms that the conquering Normans had removed, and it became widely seen as the basis for “the contemporary powers of Parliament and legal principles such as habeas corpus.” Various British monarchs tried to supress even its discussion but it remained “a powerful, iconic document, even after almost all of its content was repealed from the statute books in the 19th and 20th centuries.” And these discussions had a powerful effect on those writing the US Constitution.

Vinny wears a badge “Who Protects Us Form the Police?”

The only clauses of Magna Catra that remain in force are those protecting the Church and the City of London and Clause 29 which stated “The body of a free man is not to be arrested, or imprisoned, or disseised, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way ruined, nor is the king to go against him or send forcibly against him, except by judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.” But when Occupy London tried to make use of this to resist eviction their argument was unsuccesful.

The Eco-Village was a friendly, peaceful and welcoming place

More recently Magna Carta “truthers” have unsuccfully tried to use it against various legislation, including the Covid laws, particularly over wearing masks. But without any chance of success. Freedom to flout the law seems mainly to be granted to those in government. And much of the legislation being pushed through the UK parliament now by a large Tory majority does go against our principles of freedom, such as severely restricting our rights to protest and deporting asylum seekers.

The Magna Carta celebration is proposed 3 years earlier – Runnymede, Surrey, Sat 16 Jun 2012

Back in June 2012 I had sat on the grass with ‘Diggers’ camped on Cooper’s Hill close to the US Bar Association Magna Carta memorial (and possibly close to where King John and the Barons met, though that may have been rather closer to Staines.) The original Diggers or ‘True Levellers’ were founded in 1649 after the first English Civil War by Gerard Winstanley who stated “England is not a free people, till the poor that have no land have a free allowance to dig and labour the commons.” His ideas of the sharing of property came from the New Testament.

Luke, trained as a forester, says the woodland had been sadly neglected

This year it is particularly appropriate to recall the Biblical idea of ‘Jubilee’, where after 49 years there would be a ‘Year of Release’ when slaves and prisoners would be freed, and debts would be forgiven. The land would be allowed to lie fallow and all land and other properties (except houses in walled cities) would be returned to the original owners or their heirs.

One home was built around a fallen tree running across the floor

Land ownership in the UK has changed relatively little since the Normans took it away from the inhabitants after 1066, with the same families still owning the great majority of English land. A minute fraction of the UK population – 0.65% – currently own more than two thirds of the UK land area. Land ownership is the foundation of our class system and while a revolution seems unlikely in the near future, any reforming government should be putting a land tax at the centre of its programme.

The Diggers at Runnymede in 2012 had heard a discourse on Magna Carta and the Diggers from a historian at the nearby college of London University, and talked about more recent occupations of disused Land by ‘The Land Is Ours’ at the Wandsworth/Battersea Guinness site in 1996, at the Kew EcoVillage in 2009 and at Grow Heathrow.

A TV Crew set up a picture of one of the residents playing guitar

My post Diggers at Runnymede Call For Freedom gives some detail on the 2012 event as well as the setting up of the Runnymede Eco Village. At the meeting people agreed to hold a celebration of the 2015 anniversary of Magna Carta at the village site.

Police watched me closely as I came out of the gate to take this picture. They were stopping people entering.

Many in the local community welcomed the presence of the Eco-village, and the community work they had done over the three years. What little trouble there had been had been caused by outsiders, thought by some to have been encouraged by landowner and police. And although the celebrations were planned to be entirely peaceful, police, urged on by Surrey County Council and almost certainly some government ministers, laid on a huge and almost certainly illegal exercise to prevent the event taking place.

The festival began – but police stopping people coming & threatening them with arrest

I wrote: “Police surrounded the Runnymede Eco Village as the Magna Carta weekend Festival For Democracy was to start and prevented some people entering, issuing some with exclusion notices covering a wide area.

The police action appeared to be an entirely politically motivated action against the community and its many friends to prevent their long-planned celebrations of Magna Carta, a charter supposed to represent freedom under the law but here at its very source 800 years ago it was being suppressed in an unfair and arbitrary manner by the forces of the Law.”

As well as my account of what I saw on Friday 12th June at Runnymede on My London Diary, Police threaten Runnymede Magna Carta festival, you can also read the post I wrote the following day here on >Re:PHOTO, Celebrating Magna Carta.

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The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers
Saturday 13th April 2019 in London, three years ago seems very distant to me now.

Love the Elephant, Elephant & Castle, London

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The main event I covered on the day was at the Elephant & Castle shopping centre in south London, where local people and supporters were calling on Southwark Council and developers Delancey to improve the plans for the redevelopment of the area.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The campaigners main banner had the message ‘LOVE THE ELEPHANT – HATE GENTRIFICATION’ and this is an area that epitomises the changes that have been taking place in many of London’s poorer areas for many years now. Traditionally working class South London, this area has been at the centre of major demolitions of large council estates and their replacement largely by expensive high rise blocks at market rents with a nominal amount of so-called ‘affordable’ and miniscule amounts of truly social housing.

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Immediately to the east of the shopping centre had been the award-winning Heygate Estate, completed in 1974, once popular for its light and spacious flats, but long subjected to a process of managed decline by Southwark Council who even employed PR consultants to emphasise a negative view of the estate, together putting together what the estate’s architect Tim Tinker described in 2013 as a “farrago of half-truths and lies put together by people who should have known better.” The council deliberately used parts of it in the latter years to house people with mental health and other problems, and as temporary accommodation. I photographed the estate on several occasions, most recently on a tour by residents opposed to the redevelopment of both the Heygate and the neighbouring Aylesbury Esate in 2012, Walking the Rip-Off.

The Heygate estate had a mixture of properties with large blocks of flats on its edges and contained 1,214 homes, all initially social housing, though many were later purchased by residents who became leaseholders. It’s replacement, Elephant Park is far less well planned but according to Wikipedia will “provide 2,704 new homes, of which 82 will be social rented. The demolition cost approximately £15 million, with an additional £44m spent on emptying the estate and a further £21.5 million spent on progressing its redevelopment.” The council sold the estate to the developers at a huge loss for £50m.

Many of the flats on Elephant Park were sold overseas as investment properties, the continuing increases in London property prices making these a very attractive holding. The new estate will also provide housing for those on high salaries in London, with a railway station and two underground lines providing excellent transport links for professionals working elsewhere in the city. Those who previously lived and owned properties on the Heygate have had to move much further from the centre of the city, some many miles away.

The Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, was opened in 1965 on the site of the 1898 Elephant & Castle Estate which had been badly damaged by wartime bombing, and was the first purpose-built shopping centre in the UK and certainly one of the first in Europe. Many of its 115 shops were then owned by local traders.

A market trader speaks about the poor deal they are getting

The rally and procession by Southwark Notes, Latin Elephant and Up the Elephant at the Elephant & Castle called on Southwark Council and the developers Delancey to develop the Elephant for the existing population and users, rather than as social cleansing to attract new, wealthier residents and shoppers. They would like to see a development that retains the existing character of the area which has become very much a centre for South London’s Latin community many of whom live in the surrounding area. It became the most diverse and cosmopolitan shopping centre in London, with also other amenities such as a bowling alley and bingo hall, serving the population of the area.

Security officers order the campaigners out of the market area

They say the development should include more social housing and call for fairer treatment of the market traders, who should be provided with ‘like for like’ new spaces at affordable rents and be given adequate financial compensation for the disruption in business the development will cause.

A long series of protests in which locals were joined by students from the London College of Communication whose new building forms a part of the redevelopment did lead to some minor improvements to the scheme by the developers, but the shopping centre closed in September 2020 and demolition went ahead and was complete around a year later. The new development will include high-rent shops, almost certainly mainly parts of major chains, expensive restaurants and bars and plenty of luxury flats, along with a small amount of “affordable” housing.

Sewol Ferry Disaster 5 years on – Trafalgar Square

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

The good transport links that make the Elephant so attractive to developers also took me rapidly into the centre of London as the procession of protest there came to and end, although events there were continuing all afternoon – only four stops taking 6 minutes on the Bakerloo Line to Charing Cross.

I’ve photographed the small monthly vigils by campaigners in remembrance of the victims and in support of their families of the 304 people who died in the Sewol Ferry Disaster of 16 April 2014 on a number of occasions, though its always difficult to find anything new to say, either in words or pictures.

But this was a special event, the fifth anniversary of the disaster, and the 60th 60th monthly vigil. Campaigners continue to call for a full inquiry, the recovery of all bodies of victims, punishment for those responsible and new laws to prevent another similar disaster. They tie cards on lines with the class and name of the 250 high school children who were drowned after being told to ‘stay put below deck’.

Brexiteers march at Westminster – Westminster Bridge

The Elephant, Sewol and Brexiteers

Brexiteers were continuing to march weekly around London holding Union Jacks, St George’s flags and placards and many wearing yellow high-viz jackets because although there had been a small majority in favour of leaving Europe in the 2016 referendum, Parliament had not found a way to get a majority to pass the legislation needed. It was this indecision that led to a resounding victory for Boris Johnson in the 2019 election in December, though unfortunately his ‘oven-ready’ agreement has turned out to be extremely half-baked and most of the things dismissed by Brexiteers as scaremongering have turned out to be true, while the promises made by the Leave campaign have so far largely failed to materialise and most seem unlikely ever to do so.

Johnson’s deal – important parts of which he seems not to have understood, particularly over the Irish border arrangements has left us in the worst of all possible worlds, though it has made some of his wealthy friends – including some cabinet members – considerably wealthier and protected them from the threat of European legislation that would have outlawed some of their tax avoidance. Back in 2019 I commented “We were sold the impossible, and things were made worse by a government that thought it could play poker when what was needed was a serious attempt at finding a solution to the problems that both the UK and Europe face.”

The protesters were also protesting with flags and banners supporting members of the armed forces against their trial for killings in Northern Ireland and for the Islamophobic campaign ‘Our Boys’ which seeks to have a drunk driver of Hindu origin who killed three young men prosecuted as a terrorist.

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Willesden Walk and Wassail 2017

Saturday, February 12th, 2022

Willesden Walk and Wassail 2017

Willesden isn’t a part of London I visit very often, though I sometimes change trains on my way elsewhere at Willesden Junction. But even that isn’t in Willesden but in its neighbour Harlesden – just as Clapham Junction isn’t in Clapham but in Battersea, the railway companies choosing a more reputable nearby settlement to name their station.

I hadn’t intended to go for a walk from Kensal Rise to Willesden Green on Sunday 12th February, but the Transport for London web site had misled me, telling me there were no trains running from my station that day, but a much slower rail replacement bus service. But there was a train just about to leave when I bought my ticket, and I jumped on it.

Good though this was, it meant I arrived at Kensal Rise over an hour before anticipated for the short bus ride to my destination. It was a cold winter day with a bitter east wind, far too cold to stand around waiting on the street so I had a decision to make. I could have sat inside a pub or café, but decided I would keep warm enough if I walked around to make my way to my destination.

Willesden Green Library – where the Wassail would later end

A direct route would not have taken me long enough, but the only map I had was Google Maps on my phone as I was outside the small central London atlas that has a permanent place in my camera bag. While paper maps keep north at the top, on my phone at least the map seems to turn around pretty randomly and at one junction I got confused, turning in the opposite direction to that I intended.

But even with getting a little lost and walking over 3 miles I still arrived 20 minutes before the event I was attending began, but the walking had kept me reasonably warm.

Willesden Green Wassail

I’d been invited in 2014 to photograph the Willesden Green Wassail by its leader and organiser Rachel Rose Reid, and was returning three years later for the 7th Community Wassail there “to invoke successful growth and resilience in the neighbourhood, celebrating community initiatives and the shopkeepers who contribute to making the neighbourhood a friendly and happy place.”

Cricklewood Community Singers

The wassailers, with the Cricklewood Community Singers performed a version of the traditional wassail song, and their were performances by local poets, storytellers and other singers as we called on various shops and other places, slowly making our way to the crab apple trees behind Willesden Green Library.

Rachel Rose Reid

At the shops we stopped at, the shopkeepers came out and told us a little about their businesses and thanked us for the good wishes and our wassailing.

The crab apples having been wassailed, people let off party poppers, which proved to be very difficult to photograph, a reminder to me of the difference between the way the camera and our eyes see things. We can both see the overall scene and concentrate on details, while a still image has to select its angle of view and treats all within that equally. Of course you can take more than one picture, but that doesn’t really deliver with a rapidly changing scene. I would have been better switching to recording a movie of this part of the event.

After this the group walked back to a local coffee shop where there were to be more performances, as well as hot drinks. But by then it was time for me to start my journey home to get back in time for dinner. This time I took the bus back to Kensal Rise.

Many more pictures both from the walk (enough to work out my route in the unlikely event you should wish to do so) and also from the Wassail on My London Diary:
Willesden Green Wassail
Kensal Rise to Willesden Green

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St Ann’s – End of an Era

Friday, August 2nd, 2019

Although the ‘stars’ of photography so far as the media are concerned tend to be those who fly into trouble spots around the world to report on various crises – usually backed by the big international agencies, much interesting documentary work is carried out by people who never get an international reputation, and whose work is made inside communities in which they are embedded, sometimes for years, occasionally for a lifetime.

I’ve long believed that there is a huge unseen body of work out there which has never attracted museum shows, publications or any real exposure, perhaps just seen by a few friends or shown in a local library. Of course now, it may appear on Facebook or Instagram, but tends to remain hidden among the dross and the cat pictures. Of course there are some good cat pictures, probably at least three a year.

My thoughts were directed to this by a Facebook post linking to an article in the Nottingham post, Photographer reveals unseen images of St Ann’s before demolition, about work in the area of Nottingham which was being comprehensively redeveloped when then student photographer Peter Richardson was working ina temporary summer job as a labourer on buildings that were replacing the Victorian housing.

Now, around 50 years later, the freelance photographer has put together a book with 98 photographs that show a real insight into the crowded neighbourhood before demolition. You can see rather more pictures from it in the preview of St Ann’s, End of an Era on the Blurb website.

As well as the quality of the work, the book has other interests for me. At the time when Richardson was taking his pictures I was heavily involved in a similar redevelopment in a similar area of inner-city Manchester, not as a photographer but as an activist. Groups working in the two areas made contacts and learnt from each other – and I think were the first two areas to bring ‘planning for real’ modelling exercises which had originated in Sweden to local community groups in the UK.

I regret very much that I was not at that time an active photographer, being penniless, unable to afford a working camera and lacking any practical training in photography that would have enabled me to work on a shoestring – both things that were remedied a couple of years later. But Richardson’s pictures remind me very much of the people and the homes that I met in Moss Side.

Like Richardson too, I’ve also published books on Blurb – with 16 of them still available. It isn’t an idea way to publish, but does give you the freedom to do so at relatively minimal expense and being print on demand comes with no problems of storing and distributing editions, and the print quality can be good, though not state of the art.

But the problem is price. A single softcover copy of this book costs £44.99, plus an excessive postage charge. Authors can benefit from fairly large discounts offered from time to time by Blurb (and don’t pay any author’s markup), but even so the books are expensive. It makes it impossible to sell through bookshops, where a realistic price would need to be at least £75. There is a cheaper EBook for £9.49 which is more reasonable, and I always advise people interested in my works to buy it in electronic form, though I also sell most of my books direct a little below Blurb prices.

Personally I’ve been thinking for the last couple of years of abandoning Blurb for any new publications. Perhaps publishing a small short-run print book, but making my work available free as PDFs or at higher quality on the web than my current web site. I do make a little from Blurb sales, but hardly enough to notice. For me the point of publishing is to share my work, not to make money.