Occupy Nottingham

18/10/2011

You know why they're there. This is who they are. Interview: Al Needham


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l to r: Carl, Ben, Steven, Ray

On Saturday October the 15th, while people were demonstrating or shopping or quite possibly both, a group of people bagged themselves a very prime spot of NG1, turning an area which was once the Nottingham Riviera into a campsite. And they intend to stay there for a very long time.

After rolling up at the Square and being gobsmacked that a substantial part of it was now the home of a diverse collection of locals - and sitting in on a camp meeting where residents were advised to use the 24-hour McDonalds down the road if they were caught short in the middle of the night - I became approximately the 12,962nd person in town to ask them what they were doing and why...

First question: are you Notts?
Steven: Yes, we are. Me and Carl are from Lenton, Ben is a second year student at Trent. Ray’s from Bulwell. There’s people from Sherwood, Sneinton, you name it.

Have you ever done anything like this before?
Steven: I’ve done a few things before, and I’ve been involved in one occupation, but I’ve never done anything quite like this before. And I don’t think anyone ever has, actually.

Ben: I was involved in a student occupation at Nottingham University last year, but this is completely different.

So who’s idea was it to pitch up in the Square?
Steven:
I guess it was a team effort between me and Ben initially, and then half a dozen other people came in, with another half-dozen willing to help. Obviously, there were calls across the world for people to display solidarity with each other on October the 15th, and certain people suggested we should do something in Nottingham, and it organically sprang from that. 

So you’ve not been told to come here by some shadowy group who want to bring Britain to its knees...
Ben:
Ha, no. It was all our individual decisions to come here.

Ray: At the end of the day, everyone wants to come together to make a difference, regardless of individual status and situation.

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Why are you doing this in the Square, which is one of the busiest areas in the city centre - a place where you’re not even allowed to sit on the Council House steps any more?
Steven: Because it’s the focal point of Nottingham. I mean, as that banner up there says (nods at LeftLion banner) it’s the meeting place of Nottingham. Plug plug…

Ray: And it’s right outside the Mayor’s office as well…

Steven: It’s the public space of Nottingham. The problem with it is that more often than not, it’s a corporate space, where things are sold to us. We’re using it now as a public space again, for the people.

Talk us through what happened when you pitched up on Saturday
Ben:
Well, about thirty to forty of us arrived at 2.30. A lot of people came off the Jarrow march, and the Save Our Services rally at Speakers Corner…

Carl: …so after that, we got the tents out. Some of us went over to the police to tell them what we were doing, just to be polite and to coordinate with them, and they were absolutely fine about it. We’d made it clear what we were going to do through places like Indymedia, and they had no problem. They asked about our plans and how many we were bring down, and we gave them a rough estimate, and they were fine. All they’ve said is no fires, no alcohol and no loud music during working hours. And we’re happy with that, because we want to be approachable people.
 
I can’t believe how cool about it the police seem to be.
Carl:
They’ve been very low-key. I’d go as far as to say that they’ve offered us their support.

Steven: One of the Community Protection Officer’s exact words to me were; “We’ve been told to facilitate your protest here”.

So what’s the plan, then? To stay here as long as possible?
All:
Yeah.

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So what happens when the Council want to set up the Christmas market, or put the ice rink back in?
Carl:
We had a meeting with a Council representative yesterday, and we were told that the Council are OK with us being here, and that it was our legal right, and we told him that this is going to be a totally peaceful protest, and we were going to talk to the general public and keep the place clean and tidy, and they were fine with that. And he mentioned that when it was time to put the market up, we’d liaise with each other and – If it was necessary – just move over a bit, nearer the Clough statue. We’d decided from the start that although we wanted to occupy the Square, we have no intention of denying the people of Nottingham any of the events that are scheduled here, so we’ll work with the Council on that. And when the market goes, we’ll move back.

So what’s been the general response from the public? I’ve only been here a few minutes, and I’ve already seen people walking up and giving you water and food…
Ben:
It’s been absolutely amazing. We’ve been given lots of food, supplies and even money.

Ray: We’ve put a table out so that people can leave comments in a book, and  we’re getting loads of positive responses.

Ben:  Sunday was brilliant. We had a kids area where they made posters for us, which we put out around the camp, and we had loads of them in.

Has anyone kicked off at you yet?
Steven:
We’ve had spots.

Carl: With any kind of protest in town you’re always going to get people having a go, but you take it on the chin.

Steven: But in a lot of cases, after we’ve had a talk with them, they’ve come to realise that they have a lot of issues in their lives that we share. I find that a lot of people who react in a bad way see it as something new and threatening, but when they realise that we’re just like them they do a 180-degree turn.

Carl: Some of them have even come back and given us some money and food.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve been given?
Ray:
A bag full of earplugs.

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Camp Slab Square, Day 4 - October 18 2011

Talk us through an average day, if such a thing exists after only half a week…
Steven:
It’s started to take form organically now. There’s one or two meetings a day, and other things just happen as they happen.

Carl: We’re at the stage now where we’re collecting supplies and people are taking on roles and organising different parts of the camp. Although for the past two days solid I’ve done nothing but talk to the general public from the moment I get up to the moment I go to sleep.

Where are you getting your water and food from?
Carl:
At the moment, it’s being brought in on a voluntary basis; people are bringing in stews and jacket potatoes. We’re also having a lot of cold food as well, naturally…

Ben: Veggies have been bringing in a lot of stuff, and so have the Alley Café. We’re getting a lot of help from local businesses, and we can’t thank them enough. And as time goes on, we’re becoming more organised with food – before too long, we’ll be able to cook for ourselves.

What donations do you really need at the moment?
Carl:
Things to keep us warm at night.

Ben: To take us to the next level, it’d be brilliant if we could get hold of a projector, because we want to screen messages. And any sort of power supply – batteries, even a generator.

So what’s it like living in the Market Square?
Carl:
It’s fantastic. The atmosphere is amazing, the people have been great…you can do without the sound of the street sweepers and drunken students in the morning, but there’s been nothing we can’t deal with.

What was it like at the weekend?
Carl:
It was quite lively – but even then we’ve had people come up to us for a chat.

Ben: We’ve had loads of people wanting to have their photos taken with us. And as we’re allowed to have an open fire at night, it just completely changes the space. I’ve never seen anyone do that in the Square…

Carl: Talking of which, we’ve over the moon to be able to offer warmth, friendship and support to the homeless at night. Because they’re part of the community too.

Ben: Even some of the homeless have donated - they've given up spare change, and brought us some rice.

You’ve picked the wrong time of year to do this, haven’t you? It was absolutely pissing it down last night…
Ben: That was quite hard, but we got through it. And we’re already getting ready for when it gets properly cold.

How far down the line have you planned things out? Have you worked out what you’re going to do on Christmas Day, for example?
Carl:
Initially we were taking things one day at a time, but now we’re settling into a routine, we can start to look forward.

Steven: Hey, there’s a thought – if we make it as far as Christmas, we should be let into the Council House for Christmas dinner…

Carl: And let Jon Collins cut the turkey.

Ben: Hang on, some of us are vegans!

So are you recruiting new occupiers?
Carl:
Yes. Anybody and everybody.

Steven: We want as many people here to keep the camp as strong as possible, for as long as possible.

And what would you recommend they bring?
Carl:
The obvious things; a tent, sleeping bag, a camping mat. But even if you don’t have these things, have a word with us in advance, as we may have essential items donated to us.

And what don’t you want?
Carl:
Alcohol and an aggressive attitude.

What about, say, local musicians turning up and providing a bit of entertainment?
Ben:
We would love that. The police don’t want loud, amplified music during the day, but if anyone turned up with an acoustic guitar in the evening, that would be brilliant.

So, when you finally walk away from this, what will you want to have achieved?
Carl:
A better society and a better world for everyone to live in.

And if that doesn’t happen…
Carl:
We’ll stay here (laughs).

Steven: I want us to make people to feel different about this space.There was a lot of complaining about the Square when it was being rebuilt, and while people have grown to appreciate it, I still hear people complain that it’s just being used as a money generator. We aim to completely turn that on its head and show people that it can be made to work for our benefit too.

Carl: What we want to do is bring the people of Nottingham together, and help them to interact with each other.

Steven: We would love to put some workshops on here. If there’s anyone out there who has skills that they feel would be beneficial to us, we’d love them to come down and help.

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Can we come back in a few weeks time for a progress report?
Carl:
Of course you can. Come back any time you like.

And is there anything else you’d like to say to the people of Nottingham?
Ben:
If people just want to come and spend the weekend here and go back to work, and see what it’s like to live here, that’s fine with us.

Carl: And if you just want to sit on the sofa and have a cup of tea and a chat about things, they’re more than welcome.

Ray: It’s all about spreading the word and getting the message out.

Carl: And if you want to reach us through the Facebook group, we’d love to hear from you.

Occupy Nottingham Facebook 

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