Photo: Transition Heathrow
Having received some rather interesting comments on the article about Grow Heathrow, I felt it worthwhile to expand upon some of the issues surrounding the project.
As it says in my article (1), the legal situation of Grow Heathrow is far from certain and court proceedings against the people who set up the project actually began a few months into it. However, the project is still going strong almost four years later.
For me, one comment asking for a law book on squatting really highlighted one of the main points which I was trying to get at with this article: that, when it comes to setting up a community project such as this, the legal position of such a project is in many ways beside the point. As Heather (quoted in the article) pointed out, it is far more important to ascertain whether the community will accept and support you; if they do, then you are on much firmer ground when it comes to the law. And if they do not, perhaps it is better that you do get evicted; because who wants to live somewhere where the neighbours resent them?
I thought it was interesting that one person said "it must be nice to be able to squat"; as if the only way you can obtain this ability is from a piece of paper from the government. It is true that in the UK the laws can be seen as much more open to interpretation than the laws in the USA (see for example 2) but even so, it does not seem that the people at Grow Heathrow are there because of the government. They are there as a part of a reviving community, and they are not alone. There are projects like them all over the UK, and Europe; and I can almost guarantee that somewhere in the USA there are very similar projects going on right now.
Up until recently the UK could have been seen as somewhat of a haven for squatters; squatting of all kinds was legal (up to a point) and squatter’s rights a part of UK law. However, as of September 2012 the laws changed and residential squatting is now illegal (see 3, 4).
This is almost definitely annoying for those who simply wish to find a place to live, and in terms of permaculture principles it does not really make sense, considering the huge proportion of empty and unused residential buildings and plots of land there are in England and the rest of the UK (see for example 5).
Yet in a way the change of law could be seen as having the indirect (and probably unplanned) by-product of strengthening squatting communities; as occupying a public space remains ‘allowed’, whatever that means.
Now if you want to squat a place as an individual entity you run quite a high risk of being kicked out fairly soon, although, as is the case with all legal situations, every circumstance is different and the laws can be interpreted in a large variety of ways. However, if you want to use a piece of disused public land there is much more scope for agreement with the police, and so it could be said that you stand much more of a chance of being able to stay settled if you organise a little bit as part of a group.
To this end what might come in useful eventually is a kind of community speed-dating database; run on a similar premise as Plan Zheroes (6), except for land instead of food.
What Plan Zheroes provides is an interactive map which interested organisations can sign up to, as one of two things: either they are involved in the food industry somehow and have surplus food which they wish to give away rather than putting it in landfill, or they are a community organisation or charity that requires food for its members (6). Plan Zheroes links these people up; and a chain of food redistribution is created, turning the problem of the food waste stream into the solution of happy, well-fed people. So in the same vein, an interactive map of disused and abandoned land on one side and groups who require land on the other would solve the problem of land shortages by creating the solution of more sustainable community projects.
The internet has many more examples of connecting tools such as this. One other which is slightly different is the Guerrilla Gardening Community (7), which has active forums in numerous cities around the world, including many in the USA. Anyone can join; and even if you do not end up finding what you are looking for in your area, it can still be a great confidence boost to be sharing with like-minded people — not to mention an inspiration for the imminent materialisation of your own project.
Something which in my experience comes up time and time again, regardless of where you are, who you are with, and even what the laws say is allowed, is that good communication is a really a key factor in order to live healthily and happily with those around you. The internet has made this easier in many ways; such as giving us access to much more information than we have previously been able to see, and making things like Plan Zheroes and other interactive maps and databases possible. It’s great to embrace this resource; while remembering that face-to-face communication remains just as important as ever. Beginning a project with good intent and careful consideration of those around us, as in the example of Grow Heathrow, where the local residents were spoken to and opinions ascertained for almost a year before the group decided that moving in was the right choice (1), is a much more decisive factor than anything else.
As Heather put it, the attitude is “I’m going to take this bit of disused land and I’m going to turn it into something good. I’m going to make something from this. I’m going to turn it into a community resource. We’re just going to do it, and that’s it.” (1)
Looking around you, it may feel as though some things are completely impossible. But if you just go and do it, you may be surprised about how far you can go.
- Haworth, Charlotte, 2014. Grow Heathrow: Growing Inspiration. https://www.permaculturenews.org/2014/01/22/grow-heathrow-growing-inspiration
- Darlington, R, 2014. “Contrasts between British and American Political Systems: The Constitution.” https://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/USvsUK.html#Constitution
- BBC News, 31/08/2012. “Squatting Set to become a criminal offence.” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19429936
- Ministry of Justice, 2012. Circular No. 2012/04. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19429936
- BBC News, 6/07/2011. “Squatters: Who are they and what do they squat?” https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14030336
- Plan Zheroes, 2014. “The Idea”. https://www.planzheroes.org
- Guerrilla Gardening, 2014. “Community.” https://guerrillagardening.org/community/index.php
- Plan Zheroes, 2014. “Community Map.” https://www.communitymaps.org.uk/version6_1/includes/MiniSite.php?minisitename=Plan%20Zheroes%20Stop%20Food%20Waste&minisite_group=plan%20zheroes