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FROM BEHIND THE BARRICADE
Closed to corporate corruption - open to ideas
Harvest Forestry Squat In Opposition To The Sainsburys Development
At Brighton Train Station
Straight into the mouth of the beast - demo at nearby Sainsbury's
supermarket, London Rd, Brighton, April 2002
It’s early ... 6.30am. I wake up and try to stretch - but find
myself tightly cocooned in a sleeping bag. My eyes slowly open -
above me a double barn door, big enough to drive a truck through,
stands barricaded shut. Scaffold bars brace rigid horizontals across
the entrance. Buttresses of timber bite down hard on either side
of me, immovable right angles dug into the concrete floor. I have
camped up so close that I may as well be built into the barricade
- as an early warning system - just in case it kicks off at dawn.
But it is not the heavy pounding of police sledge hammers or the
splintering crack of crow bars that has woken me - not today. Today
it is the silent shafts of sunlight that have pierced our fortifications,
squeezing in between and under our defences with a cool morning
Taking a deep breath I sit up, rub the dust out of my eyes and
think about breakfast. I struggle from the snug confines of my sleeping
bag and wander over to the kitchen.
The room I’m in is a large windowless single space, rectangular,
with a high pitched corrugated roof. The sunshine pours into the
building through wide sky lights that run the entire length of the
ridge. The rough brick work has recently been painted white, giving
the confines of the four walls an extra sense of air and light.
I guess the building is at least a hundred years old and despite
its bright atmosphere it has some telling scars. One corner has
a crack as big as your fist that runs like lightening from the ceiling
to the floor. The rafters, though still solid enough to keep the
roof up, have at some point in the past been charred black by fire.
The building has survived much - but how much longer can it hold
out against the world’s most virulent and aggressive foe - the corporate
I fumble with the dodgy connection on the kettle. My companions
on the night shift are all still sound asleep after a long night
of ‘setting the world to rights’. They lie on makeshift beds, decoratively
draped in the vivid patterns of charity-shop blankets. The lack
of sleep does not bother me, in fact I have an irrepressible excitement
in the base of my stomach - we are, after all, under siege. The
water boils and I swill it round an empty coffee jar and drink the
reassuringly bitter liquid in small appreciative sips.
The building that we are barricaded into is on the southeastern
corner of a vast 13 acre site that is earmarked for development.
It is adjacent to the Brighton mainline train station, right slap
bang in the centre of our busy little city. Along its southern edge
is a mix of second hand car dealers and garages. The western edge
adjoins the high plateau of the station car park and the lower eastern
side borders the ironically named "New England Street".
It is a bleak and characterless road, itself the repeated victim
of previous ‘developments’ - prefab high-rises, multi-story car
parks, and cramped brick blocks of housing.
There is no northern edge, as the land continues along the route
of an abandoned railway track that disappears up a thickly wooded
path. This is a hidden world, where the secret people go to do their
secret deeds. A landscape of disturbed earth, burnt out vehicles,
broken glass and tangled undergrowth. Inhabited, as the wreckage
would suggest, by arsonists, bag snatchers, joyriders, and junkies.
But there is a wild beauty about the place, as with an overgrown
cemetery, a place of return, where nature, red clawed, takes back
Vipers and foxes haunt the shadows and hawks can sometimes be seen
hunting from the surrounding tower blocks. Rare plants grow in the
shade of the Ivy and Elder making it an officially designated conservation
Back behind the barricade, I make myself comfortable and begin
to sketch out this article. Outside the rush hour traffic has begun
to rumble by. The clean morning air thickens with exhaust and great
tides of nine-to-fivers flow up hill to the station. Time for some
When the railways were privatised hundreds of miles of land – including
this site - was given away to Railtrack to ‘sweeten the deal’. Land
that was by rights one of the country’s greatest remaining public
assets. Railtrack, (or the company that was formally called Railtrack),
now wants to cut to the cash and run.
Our local council, in league with Railtrack, QED (the builders)
and Sainsbury’s, plan to develop the site into yet another large
Sainsbury’s superstore complex, (we already have three!) with car
park, hotels and associated new roads. There has been no legitimate
community consultation process and two proposals for a supermarket
have already been officially scrapped.
There are many reasons given by residents for opposing the plan:
It would damage the local economy by prioritising outside corporate
interests over local traders and producers. There would be a severe
detrimental impact to the environment and to health and safety caused
by bringing more traffic into the already congested city centre.
It is irrelevant to local issues such as the need for affordable
housing - Brighton is currently suffering a housing crisis with
"...house prices rising faster than nearly everywhere else
in the country...the city has one of the highest levels of rough
sleeping, higher than average unemployment and lower than average
incomes."  (yet business interests call this a property
"boom"). Brighton is in dire need of free community space
and there is an urgent need for facilities for young people to get
them off the streets without it costing them money - especially
given that "levels of substance misuse and crime are all well
above the national average" . It disregards Brighton’s unique
architectural and artistic character. It will destroy a wildlife
corridor. It threatens the thriving Sunday second-hand market. And
the whole scheme depends upon the "development option",
a highly controversial ‘arrangement’ which gives exclusive rights
to the land to Sainsbury’s, making a mockery of the democratic process
as it excludes all other alternatives.
When the developers inevitably justify their actions with the cry
"but we create new jobs!", they fail to mention that these
will be at the lowest end of the pay spectrum, in one of the lowest
paid parts of Britain . Corporate Watch has this to add: "On
average, the British Retail Planning Forum discovered in 1998 that
every time a large supermarket opens, 276 jobs are lost. The New
Economics Foundation has estimated that £50,000 spent by shoppers
in an independent local store creates one job, whereas it takes
£250,000 to do the same in a supermarket. This figure is also due
to small local businesses employing other local small businesses
as suppliers and for repair work, which supermarkets, for all their
claims to support local communities, barely do at all.
Finding locally produced food in supermarkets is unusual, and even
if it is labelled ‘local’, is still likely to have travelled the
length and breadth of the country before reaching the nearest supermarket
to the place where it was produced (See SchNEWS 283). Almost all
food sold in supermarkets is transported to distribution depots
around the country before being distributed back to supermarkets.
Sainsbury’s, for example, has only 12 depots that distribute chilled
goods. Besides, the ‘Just in Time’ delivery system, by which products
are rushed to superstores as and when they are needed, means that
trucks often travel only half full with only a couple of items.
Besides the pollution implications of air and road freight, there
are animal welfare and disease control implications". 
Why should our local environment and economy be forced to struggle
or to go under, while outside corporations bleed it dry? And why
has our "democratically elected" council put the interests
of global monoculture before those of its local community? - Time
for some direct action!
As an antidote to this pernicious plan to corporatise our city
further, a group of local residents has got together to do something
about the situation. Already a group called BUDD (Brighton Urban
Design and Development) and the Green Party have campaigned hard
against the superstore proposals, but there has been little direct
action. So last year in May, the ball was set rolling by a day long
occupation of the site. The event was aptly called "The May
Bug Ball" and was initiated by the collaboration of CRU (Community
Response Unit) and SPOR. It included such unlicensed delights as
a costumed carnival procession with samba bands and a snarling carnival
Dragon. A Maypole (complete with pixies), a wind and solar powered
sound system, a kid’s disco, a live music stage and the deeply satisfying
sight of 50 police officers - who had repeatedly tried to shut us
down with threats of violence - being drummed off site by 800 protesters
full of the Beltane magic.
Exactly a year later the second wave of resistance is in full swing.
This building (at the time of writing) has been occupied now for
3 months. In that time we have transformed it from an empty shell
to a buzzing community centre and social space. Until Sainsbury’s
took us to court, (more of this later), we were open daily with
a comprehensive exhibition about the proposed development, as well
as displays about community-sensitive and sustainable alternatives.
We ran creative workshops, including blacksmithing - using the building’s
built in forge, screen printing, a gallery, a cafe and coffee shop,
a cinema, kid’s activities - including discos for the local kids
run by the kids themselves, a bookshop and info station, and local
performance groups were able to build props and stage rehearsals.
We have also regularly picketed the nearby branch of Sainsbury’s,
given out information about the proposals and had a couple of "in-store"
skirmishes with the twelve metre carnival dragon. On the first demo
we had hand-painted a banner that turned the company’s ‘catch phrase’
back upon itself, it read: "Sainsbury’s - making life taste
bitter". A security guard took it upon himself to defend
the company’s honour - punched a demonstrator and tried to knock
another from a ladder, he then snatched the banner and refused to
give it back.
Understandably irritated that the local community was not only
saying no to the superstore proposal but actively countering it,
Sainbury’s then took us to court to seek repossession. We turned
up to defend ourselves and won an adjournment on a point of high
cunning (many thanks to our legal friends and the Advisory Service
for Squatters for advice). This gave us more time and the satisfaction
of arguing through a legal defence that worked. At the next hearing
Sainsbury’s and their team of lawyers were not going to be caught
out again and managed to prepare a case that won them the right
to immediate repossession. We had a week or so before it came into
force, a week in which we drew up action plans and ideas for tactical
antics. Tat gathering runs went out all over town, skips were emptied
of timber and scrapyards plundered for steel. We went on fund raising
missions, organised benefit nights and hunted out the talents that
could advise us on all things from using welding equipment to legal
advice on resisting arrest.*
Day and night the building became a hive of activity. The blacksmith’s
forge was fired up and the hammer and anvil were put to work - from
glowing red iron bars, bolts and fittings were wrought. A team worked
‘till dawn welding a reinforced superstructure into and around the
door. Across the night bursts of fierce acrid light cut and fused
the steel into solid immovable shapes. Cascades of molten sparks
sprayed from the angle grinder and the pungent smell of burnt metal
and ozone hung heavily in the air. Outside walls were daubed with
messages of defiance and a banner was slung across the door that
simply read "RESIST!"
Then at midnight on Thursday 9th May 2002 the court order took
effect - any that chose to disobey were now open to criminal charges.
The barricade was locked into position and simultaneously our first
press release went out.
The effect was instant, with the radio and TV calling us up at
5AM the following morning to arrange interviews and footage of the
lock-ons. Some of us were barricaded inside, some formed a human
chain across the outside, others unfurled banners from the roof.
The bailiffs decided to play it cool and sent an undercover officer
down to survey the situation. He kept his distance from the activity
around the barricade - the sight of people being D-locked round
the neck must have made him nervous - an eagle-eyed camera man spotted
him and managed to gently squeeze him for information. He said that
the bailiffs were undermanned for the job and would have to come
back next week with reinforcements and the police.
Sure enough come Monday morning the eviction gang arrived with
a crew of builders tooled up with crowbars.
They wandered around searching for a way over the high, barbed
wired, perimeter wall. One finally managed to climb up and have
a quick peek - but he soon jumped back down defeated. They huffed
and they puffed through the cracks in the door but they couldn’t
blow it down. A police helicopter then arrived and began low sweeps
of the area, presumably taking reconnaissance photos of the roof
top and surrounding land. Finding no chink in our armour it flew
back to its empty nest. After hissing through the door "We
shall return..." the rest of the boys in blue (and fluorescent-acid-yellow)
left, leaving the "law" unenforced and Sainsbury’s still
So far they haven’t come back, but there have been some intriguing
All that next week we were getting prime time news coverage on
TV, radio and in the local paper. It was then that the developers
approached us and asked if we’d consider "going away"
if they paid us - as they wanted to "avoid a scrap in public".
Of course we declined and sent a clear message back - it’s not money
that makes the world go round but a force of nature!
Unable to shift us, Sainsbury’s PR department got to work trying
to soften up the opposition elsewhere. The very next weekend, at
a local workers co-operative open day, they managed to pay £1000
to the event organisers to hang a large banner across the public
park. By associating themselves with well respected environmental
groups they perhaps thought that they could influence public opinion.
Sainsbury’s are no strangers to the mass manipulation of consensus,
after all they are not, as the event organiser who excepted their
cheque, put it - "our local shop" but one of Britain’s
most powerful corporations. Last year Lord Sainsbury (Sainsbury’s
largest share holder while being the Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for Science and Innovation and big time funder of GMO research
- no conflict of interest there!) gave the Labour Party its single
biggest "donation", (a total of £6 million in the last
two years) . The company runs controversial "cash for schools"
campaigns (£28 million in the past 6 years) , and high profile
media advertising daily. This particular PR stunt however, backfired
and the banner was immediately "subvertised" to replace
the banner we had lost to the violent security guard at that recent
There is a coded knock on the door - the day shift has arrived
with fresh supplies. My sleeping companions stir, and breakfast
is prepared. We continue our impassioned conversations from the
night before and it’s decided that now’s the time to come out from
behind the barricade and strike while the iron’s still hot...
Watch this space - or liberate your own.
Supermarkets are part of the problem - not the solution!
•For more info check: www.solarcity.co.uk/BUDD
• If you live in the Brighton area and object to the proposed development
write to the Planning officer, Paul Vidler, and your MP and tell
’em what you think
• Boycott Sainsbury’s and all other supermarkets and large food
manufacturers. Spend your money in locally owned shops where the
profit stays in the area.
• Support small, independent suppliers, processors and retailers.
• Support local farmers by using their farm shops, Organic box
schemes, going to farmers markets.
• Encourage small retailers to stock locally produced food.
• Help set up new methods of distribution locally, eg. co-operatives
for marketing local produce locally, delivery schemes.
• Buy imported goods only when they cannot be grown in this country
• Lobby for more help for farmers to convert to organic production.
• Grow your own vegetables.
• Take an interest in where your food comes from and what is in
* If you would like to help the campaign you can get a "BARRICADE"
t-shirt from: email@example.com
 Brighton and Hove Council Housing Strategy
 The average gross weekly income
in Great Britain is £400.00 , the average for the South East is
£423.00, in Brighton it is only £352.40. Source, NES table E15 1999
profiles-Food & Supermarkets-Sector Overview.htm