Anarchists creating Common Ground


Common Ground - The Path So Far...
Last Saturday, anti-capitalists in Reading opened the squatted Common Ground Community Garden to the public for the first time, and are receiving support from all corners of the community.

Six months ago, a few anarchists squatted a former Womens Information Centre in the Katesgrove area of Reading. Having had their funding cut by Reading Borough Council the Womens Centre team moved out and this building
joined its run-down & derelict neighbours - all owned by the Council. Living and working in the area, we quickly discovered the total lack of any green space or community space. Looking over our wall, with the stories of New Yorks community gardens and Zapatista land occupations in mind, we knew just what to do.

For the next three months we worked ridiculously hard on our occupied
land, clearing rubbish, needles and weeds, landscaping our new garden,
obtaining materials, painting, planting and constructing decking, benches and a childrens play area. Much of the garden was created using stuff others
were throwing away and donations from family, friends and neighbours.
Unnavoidable costs (£150 roughly) were funded out of weekly subs (the
price of a pint!). And all this through internal conflicts about decision
making and accountability along the way.

After hanging a banner, putting up posters and distributing about 600
flyers door-to-door advertising our opening day two days later, the Council took out an injunction "preventing the opening day from taking place". Yeah right! We immediately distributed another 500 letters telling our neighbours
about this and making it clear we would go ahead regardless.

Early Saturday morning, pixies removed the front fence, opening the
garden up fully. About midday, two Polish security guards turned up to serve the Council's injunction. After five minutes of being ignored they did the sensible thing and went and sat in their car. Got to be said, they were
great and just stayed out of the way all day, so thanks to them!
Through the day, many neighbours came through the garden, breaking the law to show their support and looking amazed at the difference to the area. Rumours are, we even had one local cop show her support on our petition! Overall we had about 200 people through the garden at various times, the same number of signatures on a petition (supporting the garden and demanding community
control over the land).

The celebration in the evening was great! About 100 people enjoyed a
great BBQ and plenty of alcohol late into the evening. The greatest thing was the diversity; activists and punks alongside neighbours aged 8 to 80! And the tunes were fantastic, again ranging from grey-haired country and
bluegrass, to gravel voiced acoustic punkrock. Singing along with my middle-aged neighbours to acoustic punks PJ Sheppard and Gaby's"Instead of war lets have a beer!" was class, and the blues version of Marley's redemption song wasnt
bad either!

After the hungover tidy up, the garden has been visited by many more
neighbours over the last few days, all equally supportive. The local press
have ran great articles about the garden, and a few locals have written
letters in our favour to the media and the council. We've even been on
telly now, as ITN Thames-Valley ran a brilliant piece on their evening news,
featuring the council sounding a bit silly and our neighbours sounding

One interesting thing is how widely held is the view that the council's
model of development - unaffordable flats, roads and shopping centres
i.e. capitalist development, gentrification and speculation - is not what local people want or need. Even some of the people living in the posh flats over the road agree with us! A possibility being mooted now, is to hold a neighbourhood consultation and assembly to decide the future of the land and buildings, fighting for whatever is agreed. The beginings of links with other local struggles - such as mobile-home owners and allotment
holders fighting a new road, or market stall holders resisting being forced out
of the market by development - are already being seen.

Despite the extended injunction granted today - making opening the site illegal - the garden will now be kept open everyday, for local residents and workers to enjoy. We also intend to fight eviction by any means, through the courts and with direct-action. It seems obvious to us and our neighbours that the council had their chance with this land and didnt give a damn for five years - now it belongs to nobody, because it belongs to everybody!

It is truly 'Common Ground'.