Replacing Runways with Runner-Beans
by Ali | Photos by Jonathan Goldberg
Grow Heathrow celebrated its 5th birthday on March the 1st this year (2015). Grow Heathrow is many things: it’s a squat, an eco-community, a protest site against airport expansion, an experiment in sustainable living and more.
The project started in 2010, following a Climate Camp in the village of Sipson, where activists decided they wanted to have a longer term presence to support local people’s campaigns against the then proposed 3rd runway at Heathrow Airport. The process of finding the site for Grow Heathrow involved activists renting a house in the local area and starting the wider Transition Heathrow group, which held public meetings and film screenings. All of this meant that the project was really well connected to the local community and it was the locals who proposed the site to be squatted.
Grow Heathrow firmly opposes expansion of Heathrow Airport as it will continue to increase carbon emissions in the face of climate chaos (when the airport has the carbon footprint of Kenya already) and make 10,000 homes unlivable in the the local area whether by demolition or increase in noise and air pollution. This project physically blocks previous runway plans and therefore represents 5 years of direct action, which alongside local and national campaigns, stopped the plans for the 3rd runway in it’s tracks.
As well as this, however, Grow Heathrow is an experiment in community resilience in the face of the multiple crises – ecological, economic, democratic – that our planet faces, due to the domination under capitalism and fossil fuel dependency. So, there have been hundreds, upon hundreds, of free or low cost workshops held at Grow Heathrow. These have ranged from courses on growing veg, to how to build your own solar panel or wind turbine, to political discussions from speakers including David Graeber. In experimenting with alternative living and social relations, we hope to find replicable structures for other communities to take and adapt to their own particular contexts.
Life at Grow Heathrow
For the past 6 months or so I have been living full time at Grow Heathrow, after coming down to support their eviction resistance, which has so far been successful. Being involved in this project is really amazing as I get to live and work with some great people who share similar values to me. Due to our project being squatted, we’re able to put a lot of energy and time into making the project work, rather than being wage-slaves in jobs we hate. This has meant I’ve been able to help organise and run workshops, grow veg in the garden, build my own house and be part of a wide and diverse network of activists, for which Grow Heathrow acts as a hub in the UK and beyond.
Whilst this has all been amazing, it is also challenging. As many, such as Cindy Milstien, write – challenging oppressive structures such as capitalism, patriarchy and racism, means all of the usual things associated with ‘activism’, but it also means changing the way we relate to one another and recognising how we have internalised privilege and oppressive behaviours. This, as well as living with 15+ people, pressures of court cases and potential evictions, inevitably means conflicts arise, which can be stressful to deal with. Yet, we have well being processes, that imperfect as they are, help us to muddle through and grow as individuals and as a community.
When I first visited Grow Heathrow, about a year and a half ago, I decided to walk around the airport to get there. My initial reaction was that I hated the area. The run down houses, the pollution and the constant noise from the planes taking off every 90 seconds was overwhelming. Grow Heathrow seemed like a tiny oasis of green in amongst this madness and I felt like I could breath again when I got there. It felt really good.
I loved Grow Heathrow from the start. Having been here for a while now though, I’m coming to love the wider area too. It’s still a textbook example of an ecological disaster and social inequalites. But, there are many fantastic people in the affected communities who have been struggling against the airport since it was first built. As far as I can remember, I’ve always been an anti-capitalist and against climate change. But living here has helped to turn abstract concepts into a living struggle, with people I want to support and fight alongside. The area, with all it’s fucked up qualities, is becoming a home.
With plans for new runways on the horizon, Grow Heathrow will continue to be relevant for a long time to come and as with many other people here I’m ‘in it for the long haul’.
Categories: Activism, Alternative Living, Anti Capitalism, Environmentalism, Resistance