I’m sitting in the far corner of the grounds of the disused St Anne’s School in Lewes. It’s 6am and the blackbirds are just ending their chorus. I’m on gate duty, part of a 24 hour rota guarding three gates. Climate Camp South East, who is occupying (squatting) the 3 acres of unused land, is meticulous about security: past climate camps have taught us that the police can behave aggressively and unlawfully.
Climate Camp came to Lewes last Thursday and is spending a week modelling how to live lightly on the land, working collectively using consensus; inviting local people to visit; and training in creative direct actions culminating in a non-violent direct action on one of the many climate crime scenes in Sussex: perhaps the proposed biofuels plant near Shoreham , oil drilling in ancient woodland in the National Park or the Newhaven incinerator. One of the benefits of climate camps is that people learn to self-organise and self-manage – an essential skill in the coming age of less stuff and more connection.
Bizarrely, soon after we occupied the site, we heard from several sources that East Sussex County Council, the owners of the site, had recently condemned the building and that demolition was imminent – apparently common knowledge in County Hall. ESCC even, we were told, believed we had occupied the site in protest of the demolition.
So the climate camp called a community meeting on Tuesday, attended by 70 people including a representative from all three levels of Lewes councils, to discuss the issue. We sat on the land, outside. By the end of the meeting it was dark but it was clear that although ESCC was evasive about demolition, Lewes District Council was prepared to do everything in its power to prevent the building from being demolished and that Lewes residents wished to use the land and start to vision for future interim uses, which ESCC said it would be open to proposals.
Although it seems likely that ESCC will try to maximise the money it can make from (our) land by intensive development deals, possibly already in the pipeline, it does seem possible that Lewes resident activists can make a stand. Indeed, the residents at the meeting formed a group called STAND – St Anne’s Diggers. Their first events are a Royal Weeding this Friday and a Beltane Picnic on the land at noon on Sunday. Everyone is welcome. Pass it on.