I feel like a love-struck teenager. I’ve always been in love with places, and always attracted to the underdogs – my towns Deptford and Hastings and all the other-people’s-places that I fall in love with: Blackpool, Scarborough, Bradford, Greater Manchester, Liverpool 8. If I had more time I’d like to get to know Maryport, Jaywick, and the scruffy bit of Swindon!
But I don’t need to leave town to find the most perfect example of a place that has been continuously stamped on by an outside elite for 200 years. A place with both acute and chronic poverty, but where that is only one of the facts of life within a lively, distinctive culture and a valley-full of greenery. A place where dereliction has been created and sustained through state policy, private greed and dysfunctional ‘regeneration’ policies. Here the land and the people have been separated since the power station closed in the early 1980s. In the imaginations of the Regenerators, the land would be ‘solved’ through capitalism – private developers building boxes. The people would be ‘solved’ through social services. And never the twain shall meet.
Well, they’re meeting now!
The Heart of Hastings Community Land Trust took a licence on the power station land in August last year.The ‘Bottom Up Development’ (BUD) Team has opened the site pretty much every Saturday since then, growing to include Dan, Darren, Brian, Ian, Andros, Jenny and more all the time. We’ve had 101 people at site days as well as the 150 who came to our events like Warm Up Ore Valley in November. The land seduces people – everyone who comes falls for it, at least until they get really cold! As the spring arrives, we’re hoping to grow our container into a little homestead.
Meanwhile, Sam Kinch, our community organiser, and his outreach team – Joe and Thilika – have been out knocking doors in the Valley – 1848 of them! Over 400 people in Ore Valley have said they want to be part of it or at the very least kept informed. 277 of them have been ‘listened to’ – a strange idea until you think how rare and wonderful just being listened to is!
One of the most amazing things is that it doesn’t feel like a clique. One of the team told me he feels completely comfortable and welcome turning up. There is an open feeling about the site that quietly welcomes and absorbs newcomers on the same level as anyone else. There’s enough room, it seems to be saying.
Each of us brings our own skills, and we all also bring our demons: that might be being a bit bossy, or it might be a physical or mental health issue. or the situation at home, or previous baggage, or just having bad days. Of course we fight – there are stand-offs and smears and squabbles. This is the stuff of relationships and it’s usually due to a strong sense of ownership. If someone new tries to take over it’s not long before they are told straight that this is a collective effort. Everyone’s welcome and not everyone is the same.
But for now, and by rights forever, the land is ours… and I’m lovin’ it!