Earlier in the year I packed my life into two panniers and took my bike on the road. I decided to live outdoors for a few months and experience the landscape of the UK from two wheels and a tent. Our travels took me to the lushness of the Wye Valley and mid-Wales, the tranquility of the Highlands, and the desolation of the Outer Hebrides. Each day ended with the search for a hidden place to camp, often involving a fight through nettles or a barefoot river crossing. This mission certainly became a bit easier as we arrived in Scotland and were legally allowed to wild camp, being accompanied by their Right to Roam laws put across in the Land Reform Act.
Without a solar powered charger of my own, instead I carried an increasingly large stack of books in my bike bags. Evening reading sessions in the tent with books lit up by head torches and bike lights became the new normal, and I eventually got my hands on a copy of The Book of Trespass by Nick Hayes. On the back pages of this unmasking of the inequality of land ownership and public access, I was directed towards the Land Justice Network, and found out about a company called Shared Assets.
A little over a year ago I moved to Calais to work to support displaced people living at the UK-France border. I became part of the Calais Food Collective (CFC), a grassroots collective providing dry food and cooking resources to communities, with the core aim to promote food autonomy. Working with CFC until May this year, I was forced to analyse what the protection of our borders and fences really meant. In Calais a criminalisation crisis of asylum seekers and displaced people (1) exists alongside the humanitarian crisis, and I realised that the result of these crises has deeper roots than just nationalist media and political messaging. In Calais, I witnessed how the alibi of ‘secure borders’ upholds a range of systematic oppressions, harassment and violence.
Looking through a wider lens, It is clear to see that the UK uses borders and fences to defend a complete array of inequality. Through reading The Book of Trespass, I developed an understanding for how ‘the issue of land’ becomes the exclusion of people from politics, wealth and power. Working amidst a frontier like Calais where people are deprived of basic rights and safeties according to the country who issued their passport, or the fact they don’t have one, led me to understand the myths that borders and their politics depend on.
Finding out more about the work that Shared Assets does alongside a breadth of other people and organisations has given me an insight into how we can use land as an opportunity for empowerment and change rather than a currency of division. I am excited to be working with Shared Assets to learn more about the people and ideas that shape the land justice sector. I hope that in my time here I will learn what part I can play in communicating the ideas of the commons, of stewardship, and of ways that land can work for all.
Last month on the 24th of November 27 more people died attempting to cross the English Channel to the UK. Les frontières tuent/ Borders kill.