Sunday, 25 August 2013

Some Thoughts After My Visit To Balcombe

This week my family visited the Balcombe Community Protection Camp to participate in the opposition to fracking. The work of the energy company Cuadrilla, which has been given the licence for exploratory drilling at Balcombe with the intention of fracking there in the future, had been halted for the previous few days by a big Reclaim The Power event which saw thousands of people taking part in the protest as well as attending workshops and talks. Here's a great short film recorded during this time at Balcombe (Produced and Directed by Felix Gonzales):

It's really easy to get to Balcombe. There's a train station a 5-10 minute walk down the road (with regular direct trains from London Victoria and Brighton). Just turn right out of the train station and follow the road. The camp runs along both sides of this road, so you can't miss it!
Now that drilling and work within the site has begun again, several trucks and containers with pipelines and chemicals/water are entering throughout the day. Currently at these times Balcombe protectors are slowing the process by walking in front of the vehicles, pushed along from behind by a police cordon.

If you walk too slowly, as apparently I was doing, you get threatened with arrest and this man gets excited about putting you in his movie...
Many people have been arrested during recent blockades at Balcombe. This slow walk in front of the vehicles seems to be the most you can currently do without being arrested. The fact that the police got so upset when I was walking a fraction slower than they wanted me to (they really were splitting hairs) was explained to me afterwards by the police liaison officer as being due to their 'understanding' that a specific speed of walking pace had been agreed upon with protesters and they would not permit it to get any slower! Some camp people appeared to be comfortable with this 'agreement' but I certainly heard other camp people saying they were not aware of such an agreement. So in my mind, the following questions arise:
* Is it true that agreements regarding conditions of protest have been made with the police?
* If so, who made these agreements?
* If such agreements are made how are these being communicated/discussed with new participants of the camp?
In my view, we are each free to take non-violent direct action against fracking at locations where the industry is at work, and we are free to not agree to the police determining the conditions of our resistance. Personally I don't feel comfortable making agreements with the police or to have others make those agreements on my behalf. Of course I fully understand that arrest may be the consequence of certain actions and that would be the responsibility of the individual and not the camp, though communication and solidarity within an organised community is good and important.
There are always different attitudes about what relationship and communication is best to adopt with the police. It's frustrating that any of our time and energy has to be given to this issue since it always seems to detract from the main cause at hand. However, when the police are being used more and more in this country for political purposes, are behaving increasingly aggressively, and more voices are publicly expressing concerns that we are moving towards a police state, then this is going to be a conversation which keeps arising. Yes of course I recognise that beneath their uniforms the police are made up of unique individuals some of whom refuse to surrender their humanity in favour of the worst they can get away with. Yes, I've experienced some of them being thoroughly decent human beings. However, that doesn't mean I'm going to start hugging them or getting into nice comfortable small talk or ever give them my trust. Because while today they may be sharing their sandwiches and putting flowers in their lapels, tomorrow they may be kneeling on your friend's head, pushing you over for no reason or practising maximum pain control on my pressure points. I can be polite (and usually am) but I also think it's important to remember who my friends are and they're not the ones wearing yellow jackets protecting life-destroying corporations.Talking of which, the sign on the side of this tanker desperately needs correcting...
...which should obviously read as Total Environmental Destruction Technology
There have been dozens arrested throughout the campaign including the high profile arrest last weekend of Green MP Caroline Lucas with court hearings taking place over the next few weeks and months. I found that the way the presence of those previously arrested is maintained by visual reminders fixed up all around the camp was very effective.
Here's an interesting short film which discusses policing in relation to the fracking protests at Balcombe, including an interview with the Rev Peter Owen Jones and some music by the excellent Damh the Bard.


Alongside the road are many hand painted banners and home printed placards illustrating why people are here. More are being made all the time and I love the diversity and individual expression being demonstrated here. Paints are always welcome for the people of all ages who want to creatively explain why they are here or what they feel.


My very favourite artist at the camp was someone who was hugely productive, and I was honoured to help him carry one of his newly painted placards up to the main gate. Actually, my brief meeting with him and hearing him talk with such intelligence about the messages he was producing was one of the most inspiring experiences of my visit. Here he is with his Grassland v Gasland placard:

Another lovely experience was witnessing a local couple stopping by early morning (possibly before work due to how smartly they were dressed) and collecting lots of empty water bottles to take off for refilling. Clean drinking water is an essential daily need of this camp just as it is a vital central issue at the heart of the fracking concerns. So, this was heart warming...

As was the woman who turned up at lunchtime with tray loads of Danish pastries and whipped cream. OK, so it wasn't vegan and I couldn't eat any but there were lots of eager takers and I was nourished by the kindness all the same.

Speaking of nourishment, there's a big camp kitchen cooking communal meals and a 'tea and info' tent where you can make yourself a cup of tea pretty much any time of the day. During my visit it did seem to be the same bunch of people in the kitchen most of the time but hopefully there's more volunteers doing this essential work than it appeared. The backlog of washing up which had built up due to a water shortage was of potentially soul-destroying proportions and took some awesome people several hours to clear, so if you visit the camp and you're able to, please volunteer to help out with this!

Of course, what goes in must come out and there are some truly impressive compost loos to deal with that. While I was there, a new toilet for campers with disabilities was built.

It's a family friendly camp and there's a large kids space with a tent full of craft materials, paints and fabrics etc. Poster paints were running low while I was there so that's another thing for the wish list... If you do take some paint to donate please bring GREEN as that's my inspiring artist's favourite colour and it'll be put to good use!

Musical instruments are great to bring along too. My son took his guitar and enjoyed playing to people. If the person who filmed him singing his song about pollution is reading this, please stick it on Youtube or something and send us a link as I missed it...

We were really lucky to catch a Seize The Day gig while we were there. This was a great night of dancing and singing along to some of the best genuinely passionate and politically authentic songs ever. Definitely check them out if you don't know about them...

There's tent spaces for quiet/meditation, meetings/workshops, library, kidspace, general chillout sofas, and the basic infrastructure for an effective community to live, organise and take action from. I think there's possibly some organisational issues to give a bit of love to, mainly in the way of communication. And with people coming and going from so many different groups, backgrounds and viewpoints, there's obviously going to be a bit in the way of internal politics going on, but this doesn't have to be a bad thing so long as no one is trying to dominate or drain and if we can make a commitment to respect each other and be open to genuine co-operation. Diversity can be a strength and this movement is going to be huge because if the Corporate-Government continue with their current plans, this madness is going to be huge. That's a hell of a lot of organising and working together to get used to and I hope that all across the country we can get united behind the clear intention that together we will stop the fracking nightmare from becoming a reality here.

I haven't written a lot here about fracking itself because there are so many great places to find this information and media sharing about the issues. Some good places to look are:
And in my own local area there's a public meeting in Havant next Thursday 29th August:


  1. what a splendid account - thank you so much for posting the photos and the words - really helpful for people who haven't been to understand some of the issues x

    1. Thank you Carol, I really appreciate that - hoped it would be helpful for people to get an idea of the camp and maybe also encourage people to go along and know what they'll find, especially if they're unsure and haven't been before as sometimes it can feel daunting. x

  2. Great blog see ..promoting protecting our planet ..kind regards mike

    1. Thanks Mike :) I'll have a read of the blog - I may know a few people who would like to read about the adventures of a superhero eco bear! x

  3. Dear Fran, I particularly welcomed seeing/hearing Peter Owen Jones on the Youtube wee film. I have a book by him, and appreciate 'troublesome anglicans' - excellent!
    XXX Sara

    1. Hi Sara, he seems quite an interesting person. There are few good little films coming out about fracking / Balcombe. These were just 2 that I came across the other day which I thought were worth sharing. xxx