Network Launch and Planning Meeting (June 10th)

Do you want to take an active role in guiding and organising the next stage of Land for What?

Hundreds of us came together in November to discuss the past, present and future of land in the UK. We learned a lot from each other, felt inspired, and made lots of great connections. Now we’re going to work together to kick off the next stage.

We’ve organised a Network Launch and Planning Meeting for June 10th in London. This meeting will bring people together who are enthusiastic about creating a network of groups and people who are working on land issues in the UK. We’ll share some ideas about how we think this network might work but we are also open to suggestions. The coalition who organised the conference will not be running this network – instead it will be the people who step forward now.

This event won’t be about hearing from speakers it will be about the roles each of us can play in developing this network. We’re looking for people who want to take an active role in guiding and organising the development of Land for What (or whatever it becomes).

So check out the new eventbrite page, and sign up if you want to get involved in guiding or organising the next part of this journey. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/land-for-what-network-launch-and-planning-meeting-tickets-34070140708

Please also sign up to the mailing list if you haven’t already. 

And finally, you can also now see videos from the November conference on our youtube channel.

Re: development – Inside The Green Backyard

A collaborative networked exhibition

Jessie Brennan, ‘Rug beater’, cyanotype, from Inside The Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–6.

After five years hard work by its volunteers and incredible public support, The Green Backyard, a community growing project in Peterborough run entirely by volunteers, is no longer threatened with redevelopment: the owners of the land, Peterborough City Council, have offered a rolling 12-year lease. Re: development – Inside The Green Backyard is a collaborative, networked exhibition, which celebrates the success of The Green Backyard’s campaign to safeguard land. The exhibition features cyanotypes (camera-less photographs of objects from the site) and voice recordings (oral testimonies by the volunteers) from Jessie Brennan’s work Inside The Green Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–16, an outcome of Jessie’s year-long residency with The Green Backyard and arts organisation Metal. More about Jessie’s residency project can be found here in an article she wrote for the Guardian.

Jessie Brennan, ‘Onion flower’, cyanotype, from Inside The Backyard (Opportunity Area), 2015–6.

Florence Warrington (and band), visitor (Deeds not words)

Links to other exhibits (in alphabetical order)

BOM

Carroll/Fletcher Onscreen

CGP London

Furtherfield

Jessie Brennan

Land for What?

Metal Peterborough

Shared Assets

South London Gallery

The Green Backyard

The NewBridge Project

Digging for Our Lives: The Fight to Keep The Green Backyard

Sophie Antonelli, co-founder of The Green Backyard

This piece was written for Re:development, a book brought together by artist Jessie Brennan following her year-long residency at The Green Backyard. Published before the land was finally safeguarded, it traces the journey of transforming a former derelict allotment site into the thriving community growing project that is now The Green Backyard.

Jessie Brennan, If This Were to Be Lost (2016), painted birch plywood on scaffold, 1.9 x 19 m, situated at The Green Backyard, Peterborough. Photograph by Jessie Brennan

In early 2009 we first opened the gates to a site in Peterborough that had been closed and unused for 17 years. A 2.3-acre site in the city centre, next to two main roads and the East Coast main line to London should not be hard to miss, but after almost two decades of disuse many people had simply forgotten it existed. I’d like to say that we knew what we were doing at that time, but as is often the case in voluntary groups, the creation of what would become The Green Backyard was motivated by the seizing of an opportunity, in this case offered land, together with a tacit sense of need: to preserve years of learning created by my father on his allotments; to create a space for people to learn and change; and to challenge the momentum of the city, which in my life-time had seemed stagnant and apathetic.

At the time I could not have articulated these motivations, and I am now very aware that my own impetus is likely to have differed from others’ around me. I find this to be the case with many community spaces: everyone comes to them with their own very personal set of hopes and needs which are often complimentary, and occasionally divisive.

The lessons that grew out of those undefined early experiences of creating a shared space made visible the participatory qualities inherent to the project and fired up the desire for imperfect spaces – rather than meticulously planned ones, with defined budgets and personnel. The threat then imposed by the land owners, our City Council, in response to the slashing of local authority budgets following the 2008 financial crisis, actually served to crystallise this value and catalyse a movement of enthusiasm for radical change in a city long-complacent and passive.

The battle to stop the land being sold off for development, I think, surprised everyone. First came the obvious shock when council officers arrived just a few days before Christmas in 2011 and told us of their intention to sell the land… [continues here]

Re: development: Voices, Cyanotypes & Writings from The Green Backyard

Jessie Brennan

This piece was written for Re:development, a book that brings together voices, cyanotypes and writings from The Green Backyard following my year-long residency there. Published before the land was finally safeguarded, it questions the capitalist logic of the site’s proposed development by the landowner, Peterborough City Council. The book shares the voices of The Green Backyard – of those defending their right to the city.

Jessie Brennan, If This Were to Be Lost (2016), painted birch plywood on scaffold, 1.9 x 19 m, situated at The Green Backyard, Peterborough. Photograph by Jessie Brennan

Among the borage plants there lies a toothbrush, its simple white length surrounded by vivid blue. It’s an object donated by a visitor to The Green Backyard (which is acting as a collection point) for refugees in Calais, and it is one of many hundreds of objects here that seem to invoke the voice of The Green Backyard: offering a conduit through which people close to the project can articulate its value. The objects that call forth the voice reveal, in turn, that those voices also tacitly object: through positive tactics of planting and communing, individuals speak of the necessity of The Green Backyard as public, open, urban green space, and why its proposed development must be resisted.

I first set foot inside The Green Backyard, a ‘community growing project’ in Peterborough, in May 2014, at a time when the threat of a proposed development by its owner, Peterborough City Council, was at its most heightened. What brought me to this site were questions of land ownership and value (framed by the long history of community land rights struggles) and the ‘right to the city’: whom the land belonged to.

Because, of course, feelings of belonging to a place in no way necessarily mean it belongs to you, as users – visitors, volunteers and trustees – of The Green Backyard are all too well aware. Despite the current social value that this urban green space clearly provides, debates around the proposed development of The Green Backyard (and many other volunteer-run green spaces) have been dominated by arguments for the financial value of the land – referring to the short-term cash injection that its sale would generate – rather than the long-term social benefit of the site… [continues here]

Two upcoming Land for What conversations in Peterborough and Norwich (March 18th-19th)

We’ve got two workshops coming up in Peterborough (18th March) and Norwich (19th March).

Join Three Acres And A Cow, Norwich Farmshare, Community Land Scotland, Landworker’s Alliance, Shared Assets and other guests to explore and raise our awareness of land as a common ground issue connecting housing, food and farming, energy, environment and public and community space.

We’ll increase our knowledge about land ownership and the history of land struggles; connect to share skills and experiences; and inspire participants to take learning and energy for change back to their communities.

Please sign up in advance so we have an idea of numbers (follow the links below). Look forward to seeing you there!

Norwich event

Peterborough event

Report of discussions at Land for What on 12th-13th November 2016

On the weekend of 12th-13th November 2016, hundreds of people with diverse backgrounds and interests gathered to talk about the issues surrounding land, and to look for spaces for solutions. This report summarises some of the sessions from the weekend. Thanks to everyone who submitted a session summary. We hope it can be useful for people who weren’t able to make it to the event, and will help inspire further discussions.

Read the full report here

Falling down the Land Debate Rabbit Hole

Once you find out about the way land is controlled you can’t believe there is so little debate about it. Land for what? is a chance to get more people engaged, says Tom Kenny.

Jessie Brennan_If This Were To Be Lost_2016_Painted birch plywood on scaffold_1-9 x 19 m_IMG_4162 (1)

Until a few years ago I didn’t really think about land much. Of course I was concerned about the housing crisis, the damage being done to the environment by industrial land management, gentrification, inequality and so on. But we rarely talk how these issues are all dependent on the way we use and govern land as a society.

When I did get interested, I quickly bounded down the rabbit hole. The more I learned, the more incredulous I got that the status quo is so rarely challenged, or even discussed. You keep having to pinch yourself….

“Let me get this straight – we pay landowners for owning land, sometimes even for managing it badly and destroying environmental assets!?”

“Wait a second, you’re saying that one third of our land is still in the hands of the aristocracy!?”

“So landowners make huge untaxed windfall gains when there is public investment in infrastructure near them? That doesn’t sound right…”

And when you get into it, It turns out a lot of people have been through this journey. We’ve had loads of interest since we started to talk about Land for What?. Interest from other people who have learned about the more absurd parts of the status quo, and are hungry to challenge it.

Yet it is still far from being a mainstream issue. Even where people are firmly entrenched in land-based struggles like housing activism they may not consider the importance of land to these struggles. Whilst it’s easy to fall down the land debate rabbit hole, most people seem not to notice it at all.

In the past, some discussions about ‘land reform’ have been alienating to outsiders (even the term is a turn-off for some). I think some people can get a bit lost down the rabbit hole, fixating on one of the particular paths. Planning policy. Land value taxation. Community Land Trusts. Yes, these things are important, but debates over their intricacies are rarely exciting for newcomers. Moreover, the core issues are much more basic, and should resound with most people in our society.

For me, Land for What? is about pulling many more people down the rabbit hole. It’s about spreading information about the nature of the problem, always relating it to the things people care about, and exploring common ground for solutions. It’s about inspiring other people to continue these discussions in their own communities.

When ideas about Land for What? were first gestating, some of us attended a talk by Scottish land rights campaigner (and now MSP) Andy Wightman. He said that a key step in the land reform debate in Scotland was when people developed ‘land literacy’, and the land debate was added to the list of topics people might discuss in the pub. Sounds like a good goal to me.

Tom is from Shared Assets, a think and do tank that supports people managing land for the common good. Follow @tomekenny and @shared_assets on Twitter.

Quakers interest in Housing and Inequality

Dear Friends

Quakers have an interest in Housing and Inequality which led us to run a conference on 20th February this year, a little while before the recent Housing Act.

If you’re interested in what went on, you can have a look at the open Facebook Group Quakers and Housing Inequality.

One of the outcomes following our conference was a Housing Toolkit, a resource document for use by Quaker groups and individuals. It might interest some of you, so I’ve uploaded a copy to this site here – Quaker Housing Toolkit Part 1

Fred