Sydney Natasha Cunningham
Introduction For almost a decade now, an area on the fringes of West London has had the threat of extinction hanging over it. The village of Sipson has unfortunately been earmarked as the site for Heathrow airport’s proposed third runway. Despite being in existence for almost 900 hundred years, its future still remains in doubt. Yet many refuse to accept the decision and have come together to fight the Governments proposed plans for Heathrow’s expansion. One of the more cohesive groups to engage in the opposition initiated a project established around three years ago; it has risen almost Phoenix-like from the flames, or rather from thirty tonnes of rubbish, on a spot of derelict land and has become known as ‘Grow Heathrow’. The aim is to purchase the land under a Community Land Trust, thus enabling it to stay in the hands of the local community. Within close proximity of one of the Worlds busiest airports seems an unlikely place to find a thriving community of like-minded yet total individualists. However, they have transformed, through hard work and much innovation, a forgotten piece of land into a thriving Community garden, holding workshops for the local community and setting a valued example of sustainable living beneath one of Britain’s most active flight paths. As a Photographer who is interested in the way people and communities find differing ways of living together, I have spent numerous months documenting the lives of those who have committed themselves to reinvigorating a blighted community which has become used to the threat of extinction hanging over them like a Hangman’s noose. The unrestrained advancement of the modern world is unrelenting, and it appears that long established communities are only cannon fodder for the profit driven Multi Nationals who it seems are gaining more and more control over our lives. Yet the voices in the wilderness refuse to go away and the Grow Heathrow activists, who are members of the Transition Heathrow organisation, refuse to accept what many think is the inevitable. The resourcefulness of the people involved is limitless. Despite the challenges, they have built a home from existing structures, and also with incredible ingenuity their own shelters, which express the individuality of the people involved. A unified core of thirty or so people are involved in the project, with around 15 living permanently on the site providing their own food and power, thus setting an example of a future without total reliance on fossilised fuels. A common sense of purpose prevails amongst the group who have so far garnered the support of local inhabitants by investing their time and knowledge into the campaign to save the village. The influence of the project is not to be underestimated as they have raised the spirits of the beleaguered villagers, who have been living in a physical and emotional no man’s land for many years now. The future remains precarious for Sipson, but the fight will go on, and the example set by Grow Heathrow will have a positive influence on many of us who have come to the conclusion that the unrestricted progress proffered by the current system is unsustainable.
Grow Heathrow residents are now well on their way to a position of self-reliance. Producing their own food, using solar and wind power, they are completely off grid. They collect water from the greenhouse roofs to feed their plants, fruit, and vegetables, they also use fuel-efficient rocket stoves to heat water and are equipped with wonderful compost toilets making humanure.
Interview with Rosa Woods Sydney Cunningham: How and when did you first become a part of Grow Heathrow? Rosa Woods: I was involved from the start 3 years ago, but started living there almost 2 years ago. I had friends involved and was interested in sustainable and community living in a collective and creative way. S.C: In what ways do you feel that you have made a difference to your community? R.W: I hope I have brought something unique as everyone does. S.C: What are the benefits of a self-sufficient lifestyle? R.W: We are not exhausting the earths and other animals resources at their loss. We are also not relying on a system for ourselves that could break and mean that we can no longer sustain ourselves. S.C: Do you feel as though you have personally advanced from being a part of this project? In what ways? R.W: I understand more about being part of a collective, living in a community, issues such as wellbeing, conflict, power. I understand more about how to live sustainably, through practical skills such as food growing, renewable energy, bicycle maintenance, foraging, etc. S.C: What are some of the positives of being part of a community such as Grow Heathrow? R.W: Itâ€™s fun. You are constantly supported. You eat amazing fresh food and have homemade hottubs. You donâ€™t leave negative carbon footprints. S.C: With such a large group of people cohabiting, are there areas of conflict within the community? How do you work to resolve them? R.W: There are areas of conflict in any existing group or pair. We work towards being honest and open, sometimes use mediation and have regular councils to deal with all the stuff that bubbles up. S.C: What does the future hold for Grow Heathrow? R.W: We are currently waiting for the latest court verdict, so the future is unknown as always, watch this space.
Traditional Transition Towns often have a strong emphasis on growing their own food, so the inhabitants of Grow Heathrow decided to incorporate this idea with a squatted community space where people could come together, and spend time as a community.
â€œWe are currently waiting for the latest court verdict, so the future is unknown as always, watch this space.â€? www.transitionheathrow.com