I interviewed Shaun Chamberlin about TEQs, Mark Boyle about the gift culture, Anne-Marie Culhane about the art of Abundance and George Monbiot about his book, Feral, and how Transition initiatives could help rewild their neighbourhoods. In the current issue I spoke with 20-year old activist, Rosie Music about life in the pioneer community of Grow Heathrow, now at the end of their long legal battle and soon to celebrate their fourth birthday.
“How do you know where we’re going ?” I asked.
“The hats,” she replied and laughed.
We were en route to Grow Heathrow, researching for Playing for Time, a book about transitional arts practice, well prepped in Latvian and Andean headgear. Rosie was our guide. She has lived on this creatively-shaped, squatted site for over two years now. That day she showed us round its raised beds, well-stocked kitchen, compost toilets, rocket stove shower and her own tiny house under its tangled roof of elder branches by the M4. Grow Heathrow grew out of airport expansion protest and a Transition initiative on derelict land that was once a market garden and the proposed third runway. What strikes you when you visit is that people who live and flourish here show particular resilience and attitude that feels key for weathering the future.
It’s not Shangri-La. It’s tough work and cold in the winter (though cosy in the main ‘house’ around a big wood burning stove). But there is something creative and energetic that conventional domestic life lacks, and you can feel it talking with Rosie.
“I first came when I was still at school. I felt it was exciting and imaginative. I was going to take some time out before university, but then I moved in and never left. I built a bender and started learning about growing and energy and living in a community, and I really loved it. And I still do.
“Being part of Transition Heathrow means I am involved in projects on the Grow Heathrow site and in the wider community. I’ve worked at the community cafe and the young people’s centre where kids have been excluded from school. I’ve started Open University (social science and policy). I also work with the Transition group I helped set up in Tufnell Park where I grew up. And I do some wider facilitation with a network called London Roots and give workshops on consensus and non-hierachical organising.
“The arts play a massively important role in helping people be more imaginative, free and communicative in their lives and in Transition.”
Rosie has helped run two arts residencies, where people from all over the UK have come to create an exhibition or performance. She is also involved with Transition Heathrow’s wellbeing group, which facilitates communications between everyone on the site.
“There’s a lot more diversity in the project now - people from different backgrounds and cultures - which means there is more disparity in how people see the world. This can create more conflict, as well as more reality. We try and do something together every week: go for a swim or to the park. Other times we hold councils, or a bigger gathering if there are tensions on site, or we have a court case coming up. We help with mediations between people and organise workshops.
There were some questions I had a year later now the group has lost their court case against eviction: what, for instance, were the challenges living in the community?
“Living with more people. You definitely have to learn how to live more co-operatively and understand yourself as a part of a whole. It’s really deep living together and doing these things. Being able to sustain yourself in a place that is tense however can also be draining. Grow Heathrow is both a home and a public project and anyone can come through, and obviously you are by an airport, so there is no getting away.
“Technically we can be evicted at any time. We’re still trying to appeal to the Supreme Court and negotiate with the owners to buy the land. This would change the organic nature of Grow Heathrow, but it would also release a lot of potential; for example we’d be able to work with local kids, which we can’t do because of insurance.
Looking back what would you see as your key experiences?
"Some are massive events like our third birthday; Christmas last year when the neighbours came round with a turkey; making a coffin for Keith when he died, and digging his grave and planting a cider apple tree for him with manure from our compost toilet. He really loved cider!”
Do you see yourselves as an example of living in the future?
“Was there anything you miss In terms of comfort?” I asked finally, remembering last winter’s snow and mud. Rosie laughed:
“Two things we really need to build are a bicycle powered dishwasher and washing machine . . .”
All offers welcome. www.transitionheathrow.com.
Photographs: reading TFP3 in Southwold, hat model's own (Mark Watson); portrait of Rosie Music and residents of Grow Heathrow by Jonathan Goldberg