For the next three months we worked ridiculously hard on our occupied land, clearing rubbish, needles and weeds, landscaping our new garden, obtaining materials, painting, planting and constructing decking, benches and a childrens play area. Much of the garden was created using stuff others were throwing away and donations from family, friends and neighbours. Unnavoidable costs (£150 roughly) were funded out of weekly subs (the price of a pint!). And all this through internal conflicts about decision making and accountability along the way.
After hanging a banner, putting up posters and distributing about 600 flyers door-to-door advertising our opening day two days later, the Council took out an injunction "preventing the opening day from taking place". Yeah right! We immediately distributed another 500 letters telling our neighbours about this and making it clear we would go ahead regardless.
Early Saturday morning, pixies removed the front fence, opening the garden up fully. About midday, two Polish security guards turned up to serve the Council's injunction. After five minutes of being ignored they did the sensible thing and went and sat in their car. Got to be said, they were great and just stayed out of the way all day, so thanks to them! Through the day, many neighbours came through the garden, breaking the law to show their support and looking amazed at the difference to the area. Rumours are, we even had one local cop show her support on our petition! Overall we had about 200 people through the garden at various times, the same number of signatures on a petition (supporting the garden and demanding community control over the land).
The celebration in the evening was great! About 100 people enjoyed a great BBQ and plenty of alcohol late into the evening. The greatest thing was the diversity; activists and punks alongside neighbours aged 8 to 80! And the tunes were fantastic, again ranging from grey-haired country and bluegrass, to gravel voiced acoustic punkrock. Singing along with my middle-aged neighbours to acoustic punks PJ Sheppard and Gaby's "Instead of war lets have a beer!" was class, and the blues version of Marley's redemption song wasnt bad either!
After the hungover tidy up, the garden has been visited by many more neighbours over the last few days, all equally supportive. The local press have ran great articles about the garden, and a few locals have written letters in our favour to the media and the council. We've even been on telly now, as ITN Thames-Valley ran a brilliant piece on their evening news, featuring the council sounding a bit silly and our neighbours sounding great!
One interesting thing is how widely held is the view that the council's model of development - unaffordable flats, roads and shopping centres i.e. capitalist development, gentrification and speculation - is not what local people want or need. Even some of the people living in the posh flats over the road agree with us! A possibility being mooted now, is to hold a neighbourhood consultation and assembly to decide the future of the land and buildings, fighting for whatever is agreed. The beginings of links with other local struggles - such as mobile-home owners and allotment holders fighting a new road, or market stall holders resisting being forced out of the market by development - are already being seen.
Despite the extended injunction granted today - making opening the site illegal - the garden will now be kept open everyday, for local residents and workers to enjoy. We also intend to fight eviction by any means, through the courts and with direct-action. It seems obvious to us and our neighbours that the council had their chance with this land and didnt give a damn for five years - now it belongs to nobody, because it belongs to everybody! It is truly 'Common Ground'.