Author Paul Kingsnorth says an increasing number of people around the country are taking a stand against developers, supermarkets and mega-corporations: IN the early 1930s, author and playwright JB Priestley embarked on a trip around the UK and afterwards wrote one of his most famous books, English Journey.
The experiment has been repeated a number of times over the decades, with different authors trying to assess the mood of the nation.
Now, Oxford-based author Paul Kingsnorth has conducted his own sociological surveyand the book Real England is the fascinating result.
Mr Kingsnorth, 36, who has worked in an orang-utan rehabiliation centre in Borneo, as a peace observer in the rebel Zapatista villages of Mexico, and as a lock-keeper on the River Thames, travelled in search of community campaigners who were prepared to stand up to the forces of globalisation.
Much to his relief, he found plenty of examples of communities who were prepared to stand up and be counted, in order to protect their neighbourhoods from over-development.
For the past 15 years, the environmental writer has lived in a number of different locations in Oxford and found a community campaign to focus on right on his own doorstep.
The battle to save Castle Mill boatyard in Jericho, from a new flats development, pictured above left, is given its own chapter in Real England.
“The battle to save the boatyard is a perfect example of what is happening across the country,” Mr Kingsnorth tells The Guide.
“Everywhere you look, there are communities who are making a stand against the latest flats development or superstore.
“It will be interesting to see what will eventually happen with the boatyard because the story has been running for so long, but it does seem as if the campaigners might have won on this occasion.
“It looks like members of the community will either buy the land themselves or the council will get help from the Government to buy the land on behalf of the community.
“I was heartened by what I saw around the country because I think there is a groundswell of people who are determined that the landscape should not be completely dominated by big shopping developments and investment flats.”
Adrian Arbib, one of the boatyard campaigners, took some of the black and white photos for Real England.
Mr Kingsnorth, an Oxford University graduate, is hopeful that plans to redevelop Oxford’s Westgate Centre, put on hold because of the credit crunch, will now be scaled down.
“Oxford needs to think of itself as a city, not simply as a shopping destination, and I don’t agree with this idea that we have to compete with Reading,” he says.
“My book has been very well received so far, and has actually been quoted in speeches by David Cameron and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“On my journey I met lots of people who are determined to do something for their communities – if their local pub closes, then they think about starting one up themselves.
“I’m not trying to suggest that we will ever live in a country without supermarkets but they are quite inefficient from an environmental point of view, and the question is whether we can control them, and have enough independent shops at the same time.”
Mr Kingsnorth is about to move to Ulverstone in Cumbria with his wife Nav and 18-month-old daughter Leela, where he hopes to farm on a very small scale.
If his crops fail, he may be forced to rely on the town’s first supermarket, which he says has just opened.
* Real England: The Battle by Paul Kingsnorth is published by Portobello, price £7.99.