Transition Heathrow jumped on board the transition town movement at a very different stage to most. Where did it all begin?
Four years ago in the small village of Sipson 700 homes faced being completely wiped off the map by a third runway at Heathrow making Heathrow Airport the biggest single source of emissions in the country . In August 2007, the now famous Climate Camp set up in Sipson – one of the three Heathrow villages (alongside Harlington and Harmondsworth) which faced destruction and the loss of livelihoods. Was there support for the camp? Yes there was, as Christine Taylor local resident explains here:
“It came at a time when the campaign against the third runway needed a boost. Local people had battled against expansion plans for years, mostly with passive petitions, polite letters and a little genteel placard waving. It wasn’t until 2002, when hundreds of homes were threatened, that the No Third Runway Action Group (NoTRAG) was formed. Yet we were still playing by the rules, while BAA and the government appeared to be planning to move the goalposts.”
Another key group which needs to be mentioned when thinking about where Transition Heathrow originates from is Plane Stupid. Plane Stupid – a direct action network against airport expansion and short haul flights, played a big role in the successful campaign to get the third runway stopped – amongst other victories which included scrapped expansion plans at our other major airports; Gatwick and Stansted. As part of the anti third runway campaign one of Plane Stupid’s projects was Adopt-a-Resident; a scheme which partnered local residents with activists from across the country – the idea being that if the bulldozers showed up activists and residents would stand side by side to stop them. This is when we really started to get to know the area – the people, the community, the history.
Of course we need to stand up to corporate climate criminals such as BAA but for many we didn’t feel like this was enough. It is daring, brave and scary facing arrest by putting your body on the line to create change but a far more overwhelming task is creating more longer lasting change. The need for a long term vision based on community resilience in the Heathrow villages was clear and luckily enough someone had a plan. As part of a university project someone from Plane Stupid had drawn up a long term vision for the Heathrow villages – and the vision was called Transition Heathrow. All it needed was some people to move down there.
And so six of us did. In October 2009 six Plane Stupid members moved into Harlington and set about setting up a Transition Town – a very daunting task having only read Rob Hopkins’ “Transition Handbook” and not knowing much else. Firstly we just observed. We went to all the local meetings and found out what made the community tick, what people’s interests were and more importantly where we should be putting our time and energy. One thing that was immediately clear was that there were no community spaces – nowhere for people to come and discuss all the plans and ideas that people had while the runway was still on the cards.
We had been cycling past this abandoned plot of land every week with three broken greenhouses on it when one day we decided to stop and have a look – the site was in a state but looked perfect for everything we wanted to do; growing, setting up a community space etc. We asked the local community about the idea of squatting it and to our surprise we were overwhelmingly told to go and do it.
And this is where I sit now writing this blog. On land that was to be tarmaced we have created Grow Heathrow – a squatted community market garden which offers a positive alternative to the power structures that build runways on peoples homes for profit. We now have a base from which everything happens and where the ideas of making the transition to a low-carbon post-oil future spring off from. A year and a half on and the site has been transformed from a derelict mess into a thriving hub for local residents and activists to meet up, share knowledge and share practical skills for a future threatened by climate change and peak oil.