Grow Heathrow squatters ready to 'resist' eviction

Grow Heathrow eviction campaign Image copyright Grow Heathrow
Image caption The Grow Heathrow campaign has received worldwide support since it started in 2010

After transforming a derelict plot of land into a community market garden in a bid to prevent a third runway being built at Heathrow Airport, a group of squatters are set to be evicted.

Having made Vineries Close in Sipson their home since 2010 they are not prepared to give up their self-built homes easily and have offered their supporters workshops and coaching lessons in how to defend the land.

There is fighting talk from the group of squatters who, under the name of Grow Heathrow, have occupied a slice of greenbelt land in west London for the past four years, seducing their supporters with a post on their website, offering up nature's rewards.

"If Grow Heathrow hasn't been evicted, we're going to bottle loads of blackberries. Bring clean empty jars and you will earn respect, win honour and know true righteousness. If we have been evicted, we'll just go and eat blackberries."

The 15 full-time activists and their hundreds of supporters have cleared the site of 30 tonnes of rubbish and created a self-sufficient community, all in defiance of a third runway being built at Heathrow.

Image copyright Grow Heathrow
Image caption From a wasteland full of rubbish, the residents and volunteers have created a luscious garden

Behind the "doors" they care for the land, building homes from trees, selling produce in the local shop and offering workshops on subjects from bike maintenance to foraging, for anyone who wishes to join them.

The group wanted to create a "place of resistance" for Sipson residents who had seen "the heart ripped out of the community" with the buy-up of land and property by the airport in anticipation of a new runway.

But while Sipson properties may have been spared under new plans, which would see a potential runway built further west than originally proposed, the Grow Heathrow protest site still lies in its path.

The land is owned by businessman Imran Malik and although the activists have garnered support from local residents, MPs and even a judge, they have been told that despite the commendable work it is time to hand the land back to its rightful owner.

Last year Mr Malik, represented by Burch Phillips & Co Solicitors, secured a ruling to evict them, a decision that was upheld during a challenge by the activists at the Court of Appeal in July.

The result means the bailiffs are due to arrive later.

Image copyright Grow Heathrow
Image caption Volunteers estimated that 30 tonnes of rubbish was initially cleared from the site

Georgia Woods, 21, who moved to the site when she was 18, said: "It's very hard not knowing what's going to happen and for the incredible space to be threatened."

The squatters moved onto the site in March 2010 but it is not just a point they wanted to make, it was also about trying to save homes and livelihoods.

Ms Woods said: "We don't get paid but we all have to do things that make the site run, like growing food or running the free community workshops.

"With the solar panels and wind turbine we have more than enough energy for phones, lights and music. We have totally normal electricity but you learn to appreciate the weather so much more.

Image copyright Grow Heathrow
Image caption Foraging is one of the jobs required to be undertaken by residents of the site

"It's really understanding the power of community and a gift economy."

Ms Woods' home has come from the land too.

"Mine's made out of hazel and it's just very small and has got a little woodburner which we built," she said.

"We're happier and creating a lighter footprint on the world rather than causing harm to someone through our consumerist polluting lifestyle."

Image copyright Grow Heathrow
Image caption Even in the depths of winter in 2010 the residents remained self-sufficient and living on site

Despite the idyll of living on a currency-free land, Grow Heathrow does recognise harsh reality and has been trying to buy or rent the land from Mr Malik.

The group has so far offered £50,000, which they say is "above market value" and would have been generated through a crowd-funding project.

John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, who has supported the squatters "from the first day" said: "We've been trying to get involved in some formal negotiations and asked them to get around the table, we're quite happy as a community to rent the site.

"We've heard nothing back from the solicitors, but the door is always open."

Whether or not it is right that an MP supports the squatters, Mr McDonnell said it had been a "tremendous success and a brilliant asset".

Image copyright Jonathan Goldberg
Image caption A wind turbine and solar panels have been constructed to generate enough electricity for every day life

"It's a demonstration that a small part of land can be so environmentally sustainable, it's a shining example of what you can do through voluntary effort and what Grow Heathrow have done is turned it back to what it was, an environmental benefit for the area," he said.

However, little consideration has been given to what happens after the bailiffs arrive.

Rob Hickley, 32, a gardener, said: "We're not really thinking that far ahead yet, but with the relationships made over the past five years perhaps people will stay with others in the community.

"People will be made homeless as a result of this."

Image copyright Miss Badchild
Image caption Grow Heathrow has been running workshops and classes to prepare people for the arrival of the bailiffs

Heathrow Airport said it recognised that as well as "bringing huge advantages to the UK and the local people" a new runway would have "downsides for people living nearby".

It said: "That is why we have rejected our previous plans for a third-runway and have put forward a new option further to the west of the airport, which strikes a better balance between the need for growth and local communities like Sipson."

That is of little consolation to the squatters, who will be evicted regardless of where a runway could eventually be built.

Ms Woods said: "It's been four and a half years, we had no idea it would last that long. We thought it was going to be squatted for potentially months, so it has been a success.

"Everyone's pretty apprehensive and it's pretty scary, but we're not doing anything wrong, we're doing amazing things."

Mr Malik attended the site with the bailiffs on Friday morning but declined to comment on the situation.

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