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‘English Dirt’ scratch performance in Leeds

The Vandal Factory theatre company are based in York/Leeds and consist of Natalie Quatermass and Henry Raby. They have just finished a week of research and development on a new show, English Dirt about the history of land-ownership. They are holding a work-in-progress sharing in Leeds on Saturday 14th September:

What: English Dirt is a performance collaboration between Flora Greysteel and Vandal Factory. This is a 40 minute, script in hand, work-in-progress performance. It explores the history of English land ownership and relates it to current crises such as climate, housing and nationalism. 

Where: Middle Floor Wharf Chamber, Leeds LS2 7EQ

When: 14th September. Doors 17:00, Joe Solo support act 17.30, English Dirt 18:00

Watch: A trailer from our work-in-progress at Derby Theatre can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Obv7dq8Pys

How much: This is a Pay What You Decide event. 

50% the proceeds will go to the Land Justice Network and 50% of the proceeds will go to launching English Dirt’s Kick-starter.

Accessibility: Unfortunately the space is not yet wheelchair accessible, however it was our only affordable option at this time and we will be seeking more accessible spaces in the future.  This is something the venue is seeking to address as soon as possible. We are very sorry if this means you are unable to attend and we can provide a recording of the live performance.

The next stage of development: We are looking to make a 75 minute performance of English Dirt in 2020. In order for this to happen, we need partners, collaborators and funding. We hope that this event will act as a means of instigating those conversations as well as us gathering some vital feedback from a friendly, critical audience.

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/2299036403758481/?active_tab=about

Land rights briefing on the global south

The Land Research Action Network, Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform, Focus on the Global South, Rede Social de Justicia e Direitos Humanos and La Via Campesina have been collaborating to produce some excellent briefing papers recently. Below is the most recent, the rest can be found in the footer of this page.

https://www.landjustice.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/LandResearchActionNetwork_WEB.pdf

One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth: Investigating land ownership in Newcastle upon Tyne

This post discusses a research project and accompanying exhibition examining land ownership and new purpose built student accommodation in Newcastle upon Tyne. Written by Julia Heslop.

The Shieldfield estate (Photo credit: Julia Heslop)

Shieldfield is an estate on the outskirts of Newcastle city centre which has seen increasing development pressures, with a 467 per cent increase in student housing numbers between 2011 and 2015 which has affected the character and social mix of the area. After years of fighting developments residents feel distant from institutions of power, ignored and disempowered, as one resident explains, ‘We feel as if we’ve been left behind. I’m passionate about Shieldfield […] I’ve always lived here and I’ve seen all the changes. But it’s so sad, the decline in the community, and the spirit’s gone. We’ve been promised different things so many times and we’ve been let down’. Residents are increasingly worried about the long term future of the area, fearing that the close proximity of the estate to the city centre will create continuing development pressures which could displace existing residents.     

New student accommodation in Shieldfield (Photo credit: Julia Heslop)

The artwork and research project One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth, on display at Shieldfield Art Works, was made in response to the dramatic rise in new developments. A collaboration between community group Dwellbeing and Newcastle University Planning students, the work traces the value and ownership of the new student residences. The work tells a story of a neighbourhood caught in the middle of a global land and development market. After the 2008 financial crisis, student housing was seen as a ‘sure profit’ for developers and investors alike, and this created a boom in the student accommodation market which has been replicated around the UK. For some residents, the estate of Shieldfield has become an island, leaving people feeling ‘hemmed in’ by new developments that are physically and socially disconnected from the wider neighbourhood.

One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth, Shieldfield Art Works (Photo credit: Matthew Pickering)
One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth, Shieldfield Art Works (Photo credit: Julia Heslop)

The land titles for all twenty student accommodation blocks were bought, tracing the owner, their location, how much they paid for the land and the date of purchase. This was mapped and then each of the new student accommodation buildings was recreated for the exhibition using handmade bricks, made by residents, local children and artists. The size of each model corresponds to the amount paid for the land, with each brick worth £250,000. But land values vary hugely, depending on the market conditions at the time it was bought. For example the student accommodation block Camden Court (owned by BAE Systems Pension Funds) was bought for more than £23 million in 2011, whilst in comparison the building The Shield (owned by Property GP1 Ltd, registered in Guernsey), was purchased for a mere £1 million in 2015. This money, totalling over £130 million, ‘invested’ into the area to build the new developments is international in nature, over 50% of it lying offshore, and has little relationship to the local or regional economy. As a result the work lays bare the vast sums of money flowing through the neighbourhood – money that barely touches the estate.

Map showing every student accommodation block in Shieldfield, noting the owner, location, price paid for the land and date of purchase. The estate is in the centre of this map.

One Hundred and Thirty Million Pounds of Earth highlights the uneven value of land transactions in the area and prompts questions about the role of international capital in local development: who decides how the value of land is calculated? Who has a say in urban planning and development processes? What is the true value of the land beneath our feet?

This work was made as part of Dwellbeing, a group of people that live or work in Shieldfield who have come together in response to the impacts of rapid urban development in the neighbourhood. Dwellbeing organises conversations, events, art activities, newsletters and trips to build knowledge about the issues that affect the local area.

Concept: Julia Heslop

Design: Julia Heslop and Hannah Marsden

Data: Josh Chambers, James Maloney and Hannah Swainston

Build and installation: Adam, Albie, Alisha, Alison, Allie, Ava, Bobby, Callum, Calum, Casey, Cheryl, David, Emily F, Emily P, Haley, Hannah M, Hannah P, Helen, Isabel, Jill, John, Julia, Mikey, Minnie, Molly, Nick, Shannon, Sharon, Sophie, Sue, Val, and Wendy.

Initial Hebden landcamp debrief minutes

These minutes are from an online meeting on 2nd July, names have been redacted for publishing.

  1. check in and go around (not published)
  2. aims, history and objectives of landcamp
  3. what went well
  4. challenges
  5. next actions + visions

1 – check in and go around (redacted for public release)

2 – aims, history and objectives of landcamp

>>history – LJN land occupation group undertook first landcamp in 2018 on a piece of public land near Peterborough (ex military base) which had just been sold off unbeknownst to the team – decided to abandon occupation and try again in 2019

LJN direct action group did various successful actions in 2018.

Hebden project was direct action group and land occupation group collaborating for the first time.

Hebden location was decided at LJN national gathering in autumn 2018. Earlier conversations with Hebden locals had welcomed the idea of having a national group come to bring greater awareness to local issues with national resonance and importance. First hebden visit with open meeting and recce in January 2019 these continued over the next few months.

>>aims and objectives – raise awareness about land issues: mismanagement of land leading to increased flooding, lack of land ownership transparency, shooting a bad use of land, need more community control, destruction of moor connected to carbon store and climate change // aim for greater national and local awareness of issues // aim to start a long term land occupation camp, a place where front line activists could recuperate.

3 – what went well – this is a raw unedited dump of peoples feedback

120 people came – many report having a positive experience – good to be there and to shake things up a bit – welcoming and friendly – food and kitchen were really good – Saturday night was fun – important to connect moor to floods – stunning location – good people – commoners choir enjoyed the experience – interesting conversations reported – got lots of people talking – great that the land was taken – was a good thing to do – to take the land and to make the land the issue – good bonding experience – beautiful – good to be doing some direct action

4 – challenges – this is a raw unedited dump of people’s feedback without comment including many duplicates

key organisers struggled with comms with others and each other
key organisers weren’t realistic about their capacities
toilets, food and water weren’t in place with six days to go 
locals felt help offers were rebuffed by organisers
reliance on motor vehicles was a mistake, things should have been walked unto site 
volunteers weren’t fully briefed and asked to take a risk without knowing what was happening 
carbon store and climate emergency should have been key angle
action should have been focussed around the illegal drainage ditches on the moor
opportunity to do more with 120 people on the land
should have gone further and been bolder as activists
pre built compost toilets – why doesn’t the movement have them?
problem with safer spaces policy
too much secrecy and not enough information 
should have had clearer vision and aims conversations with hebden residents sooner
local hosts kept in the dark 
can’t be a spokesperson for something i don’t know or understand 
felt like cut and paste action not what’s best for this action 
openness of planning and decisions was not good enough 
hosted people but couldn’t find out what was going on
thoughts and feelings weren’t taken on board
local advice wasn’t taken on board e.g. fires on site etc 
not integrated enough with locals 
no defined roles 
individuals taking risks not the camp as a whole
not knowing what the piece of land was v. difficult 
it’s a small place so we bump into people
time of year was poor 
done at any expense rather than it happening for all the reasons the community wanted
(safer spaces policy was published in the camp handbook but implementation procedure was not.
handbook stated all decisions would be taken by consensus but this did not happen – additional commented added after by participant)

not enough people involved 
not enough hands on deck 
became reactive due to stress and tiredness 
social media stuff was very hard to manage 
rushed – needed more openness
coming back into a hostile local community
wrong time of year 
not enough people organising 
social media managed offsite raised problems and lead to not knowing where things were with farmer
total lack of capacity – rushed
shocked at how disorganised how it was and lack of plans 
had to call in a lot of favours
felt like I wasn’t listened to r.e. water 
local people should have been on the core team 
people dragged into helping unwillingly 
felt like a couple of people’s idea rather than something with wider buy in 
woodcraft folk’s 16-18 year olds camp far more organised and they were run by kids! 
spent a lot of time carrying things up the hill 
opportunity lost to achieve a lot more 
People doing lots of roles which they weren’t suited to 
plan for a media tent which never happened – 

Conversation

I – core of all the problems is logistics – still good it happened – many open letter people were initially involved

C – not enough trust, need more planning and putting the time in

A – online and social media stuff was toxic, open letters, Q’s experience doesn’t justify the group letter they coordinated, lots of crowd gathering online which was misguided

R – camp organisers lack of knowledge of rural communities – didn’t understand how much was being asked of local people

C – local opinion divided – some: storm in a teacup and manipulative – lots of exaggeration –

I – person Z asking for apology to farmer – Saville estate with 3 grand pianos – who should be apologising to who – why is the farmer poor? Middle class appearance of the network (noted that lead organiser is working class as were many others involved) – farmers should be allies

C – R2 doesn’t need to apologise for actions of lead organisers

A – how can we continue to act locally – public debrief? Shooting season action 12th august? Future plans – where does debrief info go –

R – how we can move forward?

K – repairing community rifts – how can we best do this? Public space

I – like to take forward in an open way – critique doesn’t have to be critical learning process

Public debrief

C – good idea – fine to have in autumn – time has past already – happy to turn up and participate – not capacity for coordinating – can do some tasks

A – public debrief is important – shame g and m can’t be here to say well done – happy for it to be autumn – letter signatories might step up on their own terms – can support this to happen – d wanted to be here and L too

I – debrief sooner would be good before 12th august if we are going to action

K – good to do something before

C – august 12th wasn’t thinking off…

R2 – landcamp has broken a lot of the key relationships in the network, many people involved still struggling with physical and mental health issues caused by trauma from their involvement and it’s hard to know what is left of the network at the moment – it is a much younger, smaller, dispersed, looser, less experienced and more fragile association of folk than people perceive it to be from the polished website and propaganda

I – R2 should make sure what they just said is minuted

R and A – get date in diary now agreed

A – do something with a local group

I – Sunday afternoon is best

R2 – public debrief – Sunday 8th September pm

A – local get together on tues 16th july – set up a whatsapp group

Put minutes on LJN website – one week to reply – initials not full names

C – interested but not committing now

R – publicise via XR and LJN

I – Invite people who we know – keep it smaller group

landcamp safer spaces failure statement

Landcamp organisers are an autonomous working group that do not speak for the wider Land Justice Network as a whole or any other working group.

Landcamp organisers acknowledge that our safer spaces policy was not clear enough in process or content to be fit for purpose. We regret the confusion and agitation caused to all as a result of this.

Landcamp organisers look forward to feeding into a wider Land Justice Network safer spaces process which we hope will make clear that people involved in actively campaigning against trans rights will not be welcome at our future events.

Policy Working Group Intro

Land Justice Network: Policy Working Group (PWG)

The aim of the Policy Working Group is to help the network develop its Common Ground Statement, expanding on the overall vision as well as identifying policies that would make this vision a reality, both in the short and long-term.

A key part of our work is to consider what we would like to see in a Land Reform Act for England and Wales, learning from the Scottish experience. We would also like to work with land campaigners in Scotland in order to develop UK-wide legislation that would enable radical land reform.

As part of this process we are working on a People’s Land Policy, learning from the experience of the People’s Food Policy developed by the Land Workers Alliance and others. We are in the early stages of this work and we welcome any feed-back you may have on our work so far.

The Policy Working Group works closely with other parts of the network- education, outreach and action. All is necessary to build an effective movement for land reform.

Land Reform from the Ground Up – Report and Resources

http://thehighlandtimes.com/news/2016/03/17/land-reform-bill-passes-stage-3/

Land Reform from the Ground Up – Report

The Policy Working Group of the Land Justice Network held a successful day dedicated to exploring what we need from land reform in order to achieve our goals of a fairer and more equitable society in which everyone is able to benefit from land, the basis of all wealth.

Why land matters

The day began with speakers from Granville Community Centre, Community Food Growers Network, Radical Housing Network and the Save Earl’s Ct campaign, London Co-operative Housing and St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust. They explained why the issue of land is fundamental to their campaigns- being able to have access and control of land for housing, community centres and community food-growing.

The People’s Land Policy (PLP)

A speaker from the Policy Working Group briefly presented its work on a PLP which would be the basis of making policy and legislative demands to meet the needs of a variety of campaigns.

Private Ownership and the Commons

Two speakers gave presentations showing contrasting approaches to land ownership: the history of private ownership and the Commons. The general feeling was that the Commons model shows the way forward for creating a society where we can all benefit from land and have a say in how it is manged.

The Experience of Scotland

The afternoon started with a speaker on what progress Scotland has done on land reform, including the 2003 and 2016 Land Reform Acts. The main point is that though progress is not radical in the sense of truly challenging the massive inequalities of ownership, a positive start has been made and land reform is firmly on the public agenda.

Resources:

Next steps?

The remainder of the afternoon was spent in groups discussing what policies we think would make good first steps in the rest of the UK. Groups were given a list of policies and asked to choose 5 that they think would make a good start. Groups responded to this in different ways as the feed-back report shows.

Resources:

Feedback on next steps

There was no clear consensus about the way forward both in terms of some of the polices themselves, eg disagreement about land value tax, or what exactly we should focus on for a Land Reform Bill. However, there seemed to be a strong feeling that we need to move forward towards land reform.

Below is a summary of what the three groups’ discussions. From this I attempt to draw some conclusions about what we might do next.

Group One

We need to start with something that grabs people’s attention – gets people thinking about the topic of land reform.

We selected two main policy areas:

1. Free, easy and compulsory land registry so that interest in land, housing, companies is easily accessible. Having this information will make it easier to push for other policies and is also necessary for campaigns for land access.

2. Grabbing reform: we need to democratise land decision-making and make it more collective. It needs to be easy for communities to anticipate what might happen and to come up with solutions. In other words we need to get communities more engaged in making decisions about how land is used.

Further down the line we would see the importance of establishing a Land Commission.

Group 2

Nearly all points were supported by someone on the table. Nearly all the points are important- a lot of interconnections. .

  • Land Commission was supported. But then where does democracy come in- do you need local land Commissions- who is in control?
  • Ownership and community control of land were central. This included concern that public land is being sold off as well as how public land could be used by communities. There was criticism of the concept or ‘right to buy’ even if it communities. This implies property and ownership and exclusion. This also applied to agricultural tenants’ right to buy. Should we be taking land from one landowner and give to another even if that landowner may be a small farmer or a community? Maybe we should talk instead of community stewardship.
  • Banning foreign ownership was thought to be problematic- associated with nationalism, anti-migrant etc. So maybe we should focus on people or companies based in tax havens owning land.
  • Interest in LVT but need to know more about it.
  • Taxation policies: eg on underused property and maybe LVT but need to know more about it.
  • Squatting- not everyone agreed that squatting should be legalised. Where it takes place needs to be defined.
  • Democratising decision-making about land use is a key issue. Many of the policies need to have participation. Issues such as how we define community, how do we get more people involved in decision-making, who represents the community etc. This is a problem of the Land Commission- it needs to reflect a diverse range of people and not be top down. Community groups currently do not have the same power as landowners and developers. It is difficult for community groups to keep up with everything. We need to level the playing field.
  • Get away from the banks role in financing purchases of things like housing. Peer-to-peer finance.

Group 3

This group discussed the LVT as the main way of addressing the issues of land such as capturing increased in land value so that the benefits went to society and also the size of land holdings as the more land you have the more you have to pay.  It has been tried in places such as Hong Kong and it has been very successful.

However, others stressed that maybe we need to go for smaller, ‘easy-win’ policies such as right to roam and squatters’ rights. These could help change the way people see the world around them.

Others had some reservations: LVT implies that land is a commodity. It accepts the market as a regulator- the tax tries to control and manage the market to achieve desired outcomes.  There should be more taking over of land by the public and community trusts. The more you deprivatise land the less you have to worry about tax solutions.

Tax is a word that might cause people to recoil in horror. Maybe use a different term such as community land charge.

Other issues raised in plenary

LVT

  • How broad should the grass roots movement be? Just Space, affiliated to LJN, does not support squatting or the LVT so it would be difficult to reach a consensus on this.
  • We could use different terms- such as a betterment tax or have a more targeted approach rather than support for an all-encompassing LVT.
  • We need to learn more about LVT and hear the pros and cons.

Other

  • What support is there for land reform? Who are our allies?

What next for the Policy Working Group

There was general agreement that we would all benefit from more workshops, focusing on some of the issues raised in the last session. These might include:

1. Public ownership: what is happening to public land, how can have more direct and democratic community control over how public land is used and managed, what role for community buy-outs

2. Land Value Tax: to what extent can this be used to achieve our goals?

3. Transparency on ownership: what is the situation at the moment, what information do we need and how could we achieve this

Get in touch

For more information on the Policy Working Group of the Land Justice Network contact Bonnie by emailing landjusticeuk@gmail.com



Walk and Songs to Honour the Diggers – 7th April 2019

On Sunday 7 April 2019 a small group set out to walk from Oxshott to Little Heath to honour the Diggers 370th anniversary.

St Georges Hill is completely private land now and difficult to access, so we decided to go to Little Heath where the Diggers went after being evicted from St George’s Hill in August 1649.

After meeting at the station we walked to the war memorial on top of the hill in Oxshott Heath. There Tony gave us a picture of the context of the Diggers’ actions. The Civil War was a war of monarch vs parliament, a war of the end of feudalism vs capitalism. 

Several people had come specifically to sing songs and at two points we stopped to sing The Diggers Song, a UK version of This Land is Your Land and the Boundary Song. Of course we also sang The World Turned Upside Down at a place on Little Heath where there is still an unenclosed field, before walking past a very enclosed/encased estate!

We now have a new project of  making a Land Songbook. Anyone who has any songs to add please send them to me to collate.

A great day with friends old and new.  Thanks so much to all who came and made it so memorable.

Leslie