Posts Tagged ‘Transition Heathrow’

Deaf & Disabled March & a Harvest Festival

Sunday, September 26th, 2021

Saturday 26th September 2015 wasn’t one of my busiest Saturdays, but the two events I photographed were very different, and took place some distance apart. The first was in the centre of London, at Westminster and was a protest over the discrimination by the Tory government against disabled people.

It was clear from the start of the coalition government that came to power in 2010 that the Tories were out to target the disabled, and that they saw them and the benefits they were getting as a drain on our taxes they were keen to diminish. They declared that cuts in government spending were essential, blaming the previous New Labour government for the results of the world-wide banking crash which in reality was caused by the exploitation of an unstable system by greedy bankers and using this as an excuse for largely counter-productive austerity.

Looking at ways to make cuts, they picked on the disabled as they thought they would be an easy target and could bring large savings. But the disabled have turned out far more resilient than they expected, with groups like Disabled People Against Cuts turning out to be formidable opponents and getting considerable public support.

This particular protest was over the the cutting of the DWP’s Access to Work scheme which enables disabled people to work on an equal basis to non-disabled people. They want to work and have careers and to make a contribution to society, but cutting this essential support will prevent them doing so. And as the protesters pointed out, every £1 spent on Access to Work results in a return of £1.48.

Local resident Christine Taylor of Stop Heathrow Expansion points at the Heathrow plan

A long tube journey, changing to go almost to the edge of London on the Piccadilly line and then catch a bus to Sipson took me to Grow Heathrow in Sipson. It was a reminder that although London once led the world with its Underground system, it has failed to keep up with the times and now so many other cities have more modern and faster systems. When I first went to Paris we used to laugh at the quaint Metro clattering slowly and noisily around under the city, but now Parisians used to the RER must enjoy at least a little smile at our creaking system – and perhaps gloat that some of their system is now financed by the profits from Londoners using RATP run buses. Germans too profit as DB Arriva run the Overground as well as buses as well as three rail franchises.

Grow Heathrow was celebrating another harvest at their occupied nursery site with ‘music, pumpkins and pizza’ as well as an open ‘No Third Runway!’ discussion. They had squatted the derelict site in 2010 and five years later were still resisiting eviction with their court case then adjourned until the following summer. Half the site was evicted in 2019 but the rest continued until the final eviction in March 2021.

I was late (thanks to that slow journey) for the start of the discussion on Heathrow, but got there in time to hear much of it and take pictures – and as a fairly local long-term resident to make a very small contribution to the debate led by John Stewart of HACAN and other campaigners including Christine Taylor of Stop Heathrow Expansion and Sheila Menon of Plane Stupid. I grew up under the flightpath a couple of miles from touchdown and have lived the last 47 years a similar distance from the airport. Established by deception it has long been clear the airport is in the wrong place, and now even clearer that we can’t continue expanding air transport if we want to avoid climate catastrophe.

It is hard to take the government’s environmental policies seriously when they continue to support the expansion of air travel and transport and plans for another runway at Heathrow. We should be looking urgently at ways to cut our dependence on air freight and reduce travel, as well as ways to reduce the carbon emissions involved in the lower amount that will continue. This is one of the government policies that seriously undermines its national and international credibility at the forthcoming COP26 climate talks.

Grow Heathrow showed how people could live in different ways and evolve stronger communities and more democratic systems, although few would want to live as ‘off-grid’ in the rather spartan conditions of the residents here. But although we might not all want to make our own charcoal, nor go back to running vehicles on it, producing biochar is one of the few practical methods currently feasible of carbon capture and storage.

Grow Heathrow celebrates Harvest Festival
Deaf & Disabled Access to Work protest


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


Grow Heathrow Open Day 2012

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

A bike-powered smoothie maker

Transition Heathrow had moved onto the disused market garden site in Sipson immediately to the north of Heathrow Airport at the start of March 2010 when the site was a local eyesore and dumping ground. They had come to fight against the plans for a third runway at Heathrow, which would destroy the whole village of Sipson, but immediately realised the potential of the site to create a productive alternative home that would become a creative hub for the area.

Being a relatively local resident and also involved in the fight against the third runway I’d heard about them more or less from the start, but I’d not managed to visit – and on the couple of occasions I’d passed the gates they were locked. Later they got more organised with advertised opening times but I was busy with other things.

Inside a temporary home

They had to begin by clearing out 30 tons of rubbish, including much that had been illegally dumped there, and persuading the local council to take it away. They made some of the existing buildings habitable and many of those who came to live there built their own small temporary homes, while others continued to live in tents.

A wood-fire heated shower on the site

By 2012 the site had become in an inspiration for alternative life-styles with lessons for us all, and when the site owners won a court case to evict the site, Judge Karen Walden-Smith described the project as “much loved and well used” by the local community and they were granted leave to appeal on human rights grounds. They were evicted from a part of the site in 2019, but the final eviction only came on 8th March 2021. It was a sad end.

On Saturday 8th September 2012 I made my first visit to what was by then a thriving site having an Open Day, with a special welcome and programme of events. Among the other visitors I met and photographed was local MP John McDonnell, a firm supporter of the project who was quoted on their web site:

“This inspirational project has not only dramatically improved this derelict site but it has lifted the morale of the whole local community in the campaign against the third runway and in planning a sustainable future for our area. We cannot lose this initiative and I will do all I can to enable it to continue.”

The site was running regular bicycle workshops, art workshops and gardening with site residents and local residents. The bike workshop was recycling old bicycles, using the parts from old and abandoned bikes to create impressive ‘new’ machines as well as teaching people to repair their own bikes. I only wish it was still running as there are now a couple of old bikes in my own shed I’d go there with for their help.

A new meeting area, built with mud and waste materials

I was also impressed by their vegetable growing – which as I say in My London Diary made some of those produced in my own garden a few miles away look rather pathetic. The meeting room, newly built from recycled materials with walls of reinforced mud and donated straw bale seating was also impressive. Many rural buildings in the past were built using ‘wattle and daub’ and this is a more modern use of a similar technique, with thick walls giving good thermal properties, though I think this example is too well ventilated to be cosy.

Comfortable seating – all thrown out from homes

Living ‘off-grid’ and making use of recycled furniture and household goods is obviously not a possible future for the whole of society, but it does provide inspiration for how we might live better with less, and in doing so reduce our own carbon footprint. But despite the comfortable furnishing and great vegetarian or vegan food, it made me feel I was too old and used to my way of life to join them, and as I ended my comments I wrote “But although it seemed to be a very pleasant place to live on a warm summer day, I think it might be rather a harsh existence in winter.”

I returned several times in the following years and was always impressed by Grow Heathrow.

More at Grow Heathrow Open Day


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.


2015: Grow Heathrow at Five

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

On 28th February 2015, Grow Heathrow, a non-hierarchical free community in an occupied derelict nursery at Sipson, just north of Heathrow Airport celebrated 5 years with open workshops and a party.

It had been set up as a symbol of community resistance to the economic, ecological and democratic crises and to oppose the increasing development of the aviation industry and Heathrow, at a time when local residents, myself included, were protesting against the building of a “third runway” to the north of the current airport.

Local protests had begun back in 2003, and by the time squatters occupied the long-abandoned market garden victory on the specific issue of the new runway seemed more or less assured. Transition Heathrow’s ‘Grow Heathrow’ had longer term and more far reaching goals, hoping to create more sustainable and resilient Heathrow villages after the dropping of the third runway and more widely to build long-term infrastructure and networks to deal with peak oil and the threat of climate change. On their site they set out to demonstrate how we could live differently, ‘off grid’ and with a different and cooperative lifestyle.

I wasn’t particularly closely involved with Grow Heathrow, though I visited the site a number of times for various events, as well as taking part in the local protests and events at the nearby Greenpeace ‘Airplot’, where I was one of the 91,000 of beneficial owners of a very small area of land. It’s an area I knew from my youth, when I often cycled through Sipson ,Harmondsworth, Longford, Horton and Colnbrook.

Grow Heathrow weathered a number of legal battles to stay in occupation, but were evicted from the front half of the site where most of these celebrations took place two years ago at the end of February 2019 after around 9 years of occupation and growth. I’ve not visited since the eviction but so far as I am aware there are still some residents on the back part of the site – which had a different owner, but visits have not been possible since the start of the pandemic.

The project was an important one and brought together many people from different backgrounds, including local residents and international visitors, some who stayed for months and years. Among those who came to the 5th birthday party to join the celebrations and speak were local MP John McDonnell, Tristram Stuart, a pioneer of the radical food movement with his 2009 book on food waste, anthropology professor David Graeber and activist Ewa Jasiewicz.

Grow Heathrow was an inspiration to many, though some of us were unable to envisage its rather spartan lifestyle for ourselves there were lessons that could be learnt in particular from its involvement with the wider community. Heathrow expansion is back on the agenda today, though it is hard to believe it will go ahead given the growing realisation of the vital importance of the climate crisis. Aviation as we know it is incompatible with the kind of Green future our government now plays lip-service too – and will need putting into action for civilisation to survive.

Many more pictures at Grow Heathrow’s 5th Birthday.


All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.