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Land Justice Activism in the UK – a story, and a map

Kate Swade

We’ve been trying to create a map of land justice activity in the UK. Read on to find out a bit more about our involvement in land justice activism, and to see the draft map! 

As Ọlá wrote in his recent blog, at Shared Assets we’re really interested in movements for change; how they come about, how they operate, how power is distributed within them. The movement for change we are most interested in, is, of course, the growing ecosystem of people, organisations, groups and campaigns focussed on creating a land system that is just, fair and equitable.

We’ve never been an activist or campaigning organisation, but we enjoy connecting people with each other, and take great pleasure in working with and alongside people who are working to change the dominant ways in which land and natural resources are accessed, distributed, and used in the UK.

We’ve also always recognised that land is a complex and multifaceted system, and that change will come from an ecosystem of different people and organisations working in different ways. So it was with great excitement and pleasure that, around the end of 2015 or beginning of 2016, we found ourselves hosting a meeting at our old offices in Wapping.

It was an office with four desks in, so squeezing in 9 or 10 people was a challenge, sitting in a wonky circle. We later managed to find space to meet in places that could actually fit us in, and eventually established a multi-organisational coalition. Land For What comprised ourselves,Three Acres and a Cow, Landworkers’ Alliance, Community Food Growers Network, London Community Neighbourhood Cooperative, Radical Housing Network, Just Space, and New Economics Foundation

The initial conversations were quite general, recognising that we all were working on land issues, and trying to work out whether and how we could work more closely together. Pretty soon after running some well attended workshops around the country, we settled on the idea of hosting our own event, with a particular focus on bringing housing and food activists into the same space to talk about land. We had a hypothesis that a Welsh hill farmer and an E15 Mum would have something in common, and that that thing was land.

As always with events, the momentum of having a date in the diary, speakers to organise, funding to find, programmes to craft and publicity to do, very much took over. I don’t think anyone involved would look back on that time and say it was easy. In retrospect, we hadn’t done nearly enough to build trust in each other, and to get to know each other – we had found ourselves doing a quite complicated and stressful thing without having built a solid foundation to stand that thing on.

As well as the usual event management stresses, tensions, misunderstandings and miscommunications around race, class, gender and power were never far from the surface; in some ways we were grappling with a microcosm of the ways in which the dominant system still plays out in many of our interactions in relation to land and each other. 

However, we pulled it off, and Land For What? was a 2 day free event at the end of November 2016. We had the luck of recruiting the wonderful Zahra as a coordinator, and she was instrumental in  pulling everything together. Over 400 people came through the doors of Resource for London in Holloway Road for an amazing array of sessions, speakers and interactions. Check out this video (and this channel for recordings of some of the sessions). It was one of the most exciting, nerve wracking and stressful things I’ve been involved with (and there are a number of things I’d advocate for doing differently today).

people at the 2016 land for what conference
we got a big turnout!

A much needed break from each other meant that we didn’t come back together until the summer of 2017, when many of the key people from Land for What, and more, met up in the basement of New Economics Foundation to talk about what should happen next. We came up with the idea of forming a Land Justice Network to take forward what Land for What had begun. It seemed sensible for Shared Assets not to play a formal role in LJN, as there was a clear desire for it to be activist-led, but we did remain a financial host for some of the network’s work, and helped recruit and support a (very) part time coordinator, Kate

People involved in LJN, especially Robin, Guy, Ferdia, Nick, and more, did some great work, including creating this amazing pamphlet, the Landlord’s Game walking tour, and a Land Camp occupation. There was ongoing outreach and education sessions using the Land for What framing, and a number of well attended national meetings. However, the network overcommitted its limited resources and energy undertaking the land occupation which led to widespread burnout. Combined with the funding for the coordinator running out, momentum dwindled, and central LJN activities slowed down. There was huge energy in some parts of the network, in particular in the development of the Right to Roam campaign, and the People’s Land Policy work. 

Shared Assets got back involved more formally in the middle of 2020 as it had become increasingly clear that the network itself was essentially dormant, and that its strong web presence was actually acting as a potential blocker to people finding out about the great work that was still happening outside or adjacent to the LJN. As importantly, the last few years have seen a flourishing of other land justice related projects that hadn’t been at all associated with LJN, most notably the amazing work that the folks at both LION and the Black Land and Spatial Justice Campaign are doing around land as a racial justice issue. 

After talking to as many of the core “LJN” people as possible we reached a broad agreement that the network was dormant, and that we should repurpose landjustice.uk as a directory or signposting site to help people find out about the broad and varied ecosystem of people working for change in the land system. 

The first iteration of that directory is this ecosystem map, which people now arriving at the www.landjustice.uk website are directed to – you can also see it here

You can use it to explore which groups are working on various different focus areas; clicking on the yellow dot will give you more information about each group, including how to get in touch and if they are looking for people to get involved. If you press “O” on your keyboard, it will remove the overlaps. And then if you click a blue dot, and press 1, it will focus the map on groups working on that area.

We know this is imperfect and incomplete – and it probably always will be – but it’s a start, and hopefully begins to both help people be aware of who they are in a system with, as well as showing the diversity of groups, campaigns and organisations working for change in the system. If you think your group or organisation should be on the map, please fill in this 2 minute survey, and we will keep updating the map as it grows.

 

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