Oxford has a developing and regular counter-culture scene; as well as the progressive Oxford Real Farming Conference providing an antidote to the traditional Oxford Farming Conference - Marmalade Festival has, for 10 years, been an antidote to the Skoll World Forum. An interesting distinction between all these events is that two of them are characterised by being spoken-at, and two of them are characterised by being spoken-with.
Whose Land Is It?
At this year's Marmalade Festival, two land justice themed events were part of the programme, both curated and cultured by local people in Oxford motivated by land justice. The Whose Land Is It workshop took place on Friday evening, and invited participants and speakers to explore relationships to land and share thoughts about how land could be better used in Oxford. Alanna participated in the ‘Being a hedge’ performance by Mostly Moss productions… find out more about that in our follow up blog by signing up to our newsletter.
We heard mini-speeches from several speakers, curated to underline the importance of power in land relations, and to show how food, housing and inequity are all underpinned by access to land:
- Rawz, from Inner Peace Records kicked off the session with his poem, exploring how power is perceived, taken and given.
- Fred from Who Owns Oxfordshire - a group that has been mapping land ownership in the city and county, discussed the power of mapping and highlighted the very small number of very large landowners.
- Kay shared the extent of housing demand in the city and what Oxford Community Land Trust and Thames Co Hub is doing to bring more affordable housing to the city
- Adam at Willowbrook Farm shared his family’s story of wanting more access to land and nature, the additional hurdles the family experienced establishing a farm as people of colour, and the value that faith and spirituality brings to food and farming
- Harvey from Cambridge Land Justice shared the work they are doing in Cambridge to amplify land injustices in the city, and what the myth that ‘you can walk from Oxford to Cambridge on University owned land’ tells us about enclosures, land and alienation from power.
Inspired by these insights and equipped with collective knowledge; participants were invited to react and discuss these talks, all that they brought up for them, and their lived experiences at three thematic tables focussed on housing, marginalised voices and food:
- Katie from Land Justice Oxfordshire hosted the Housing discussion, focusing on land ownership dynamics and rising prices as the root of the housing crisis. The group explored alternative housing futures for Oxford, including social housing, eco-communities, and tenant rights. They emphasised treating housing as a right, spreading knowledge about rights, and challenging norms of land use and ownership.
- Christabel from Shared Assets led the Marginalised Voices discussions, addressing those excluded from land justice conversations in Oxford. The group highlighted homelessness and exclusion due to development pressures as those often excluded. They emphasised the need for better literacy and participation in planning processes, seeking connections to create a just transition to land justice. They also discussed the spatial segregation in Oxford and shared their vision for leaders representing all communities in decision making.
- Tom from Shared Assets hosted the Food discussions, advocating for accessible food for all. Eating seasonally and reducing food waste were emphasised as justice issues. The group envisioned more common spaces like orchards and recognised the role of the University and VCSE sectors in driving positive change. Interestingly, little mention was made of the role of 'businesses' in addressing these issues.
And throughout, we were kept inspired, motivated and energised by the more-than-brillant Tiwari who reminded us that this is a chance to recognise our power as numerous citizens facing inequality, and collectively work towards catalysing changes to better support our communities in a very unequal city, county and country.
Land Justice Oxfordshire
Land Justice Oxfordshire is a collective bringing together individuals and organisations who have had the privilege of learning and understanding the extent to which access to land is a barrier to equality. Much of the history and knowledge that makes this so clear is not taught in regular schools, and two organisations trying to address this in both mainstream and popular education include Three Acres and a Cow and the Right to Roam movement - who both aim to educate people about the Enclosures Act and beyond. Three Acres and a Cow was a catalyst for initiating Land Justice Oxfordshire, and the group includes students, growers, ecologists and other professionals in the land sector as well as citizens experiencing housing issues (which most people in Oxfordshire face), planners, artists and healthcare professionals amongst others - who all want to see changes to the land system in Oxfordshire and nationally.
There’s a well known and (very) long standing tension in Oxford between the ‘town’ and ‘gown’, the core of which is around distribution of privilege and power. This hasn’t gone away in Oxford, and translates easily to all parts of the country and several periods of time. For instance, the Black Lives Matter campaigns in 2020 in Bristol highlighted again the violence, abuse and arrogance of the racist and slave-trader Ed Colston and his supporters and infrastructure . Some of the equivalent work in Oxford was very well organised and like in Bristol community-led, but ultimately has settled in the power holders (for instance landowners, national government, and local authority) still using their power to continue misdirect a justice matter - whilst a debate still takes place about the value of a racist, colonist, and bigot (and his supporters and infrastructure), reparations for historical injustices are delayed. What this highlights is the continued weakness of the actions of power holders - hashtags (and equivalent) mean nothing, especially considering the justice commitments that are made. Land Justice Oxfordshire hopes to bring together town and gown, act as a backbone to commitments supporting accountability in power holders in Oxford, and platform existing campaigns as well as to catalyse new initiatives, to work more concretely towards a fairer land system in the county for all residents.
Regional Land Justice Groups
Plenty of organisations use a membership approach to grow their work. This has had value, but largely in a ownership and capitalist model… and we know that land is best accessed when considered as a commons. To acknowledge this, Shared Assets doesn’t want to centre itself as the land justice organisation, but does want to support the land justice movement across the UK as best possible. We see our role as supporting the movement, rather than coordinating and curating centralised messaging in the network. We value that Land Justice groups have their own identity, their own local context/needs and their own agency. A few examples of local grassroots groups that are established or newly forming around the UK include:
- Land Justice Oxfordshire
- Land Justice Cambridgeshire
- Land Justice Sheffield/Yorkshire
- Land Justice Manchester
- Land Justice Wood Green (London)
What we learned at Whose Land Is It?
- There has been a shift from organising. Members in the local land justice groups were initially grassroots organisers, and are now being joined by people exploring land in their day to day work. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing. However it’s important that the social hierarchy gained from being paid for your work is left behind by professionals when entering into these spaces. And that professionals should try to use the power that employment provides to try to improve the land system where they live through community.
- Be a buddy - for the Whose Land Is It event, LJO wanted to make the event accessible for those who couldn’t attend in person. Jamie Hinch from Third Generation Project became an ‘Access Buddy’ for a member of the Land Justice Oxford team that couldn’t attend in person.
- Transience can be tough - Towns and cities with a large student population often have a large transient population. This can mean that it's easier to increase rents, and can also be harder to organise for longer-term change and continued accountability.
- Land and Art - We also know that marginalised people often use creativity and the creative space to help expresess and share the struggles experienced with being marginalised from power. Given that Land Justice organisations often use creativity, this can give us confidence that sharing our own energy within the land movement is valuable, just and purposeful.
Join the Movement for Land Justice
We are exploring how Shared Assets can support organisations and the wider land movement e.g. through training/resources. We would like to collectively provide more support to local land justice groups - and would like to understand the needs of the movement and how we can change the land system together.
Currently we are hosting a regular ‘Land Justice Learning Space’ where coordinators working on land justice issues throughout the UK share work, and we are looking at creating a similar space for regional organisers of local land justice groups. Alongside this, we are also part of a Communications Collective working on sharing and producing easy to access resources about land justice to build up knowledge sharing. If you’d like to be involved with any part of this work, we’d be pleased to include you, so reach out to email@example.com.
We know that newer groups really value understanding how others got going, so we have a request to the movement - to keep sharing with us and the movement, resources and inspiring campaigns or ideas. We’re also really keen to respond to needs of people who want to act on land justice - please be in touch with the Shared Assets team if you have an inspiring story to tell, want to ask about our work, or would like to share your thoughts and ideas with us about your work to create a more just land system.