November 15, 2013, by Matt
Summer Geoging … Diggers 2012
Briony McDonagh blogs about her summer fieldwork…
While other members of the School of Geography have spent the summer conducting fieldwork in places as far afield as Brazil and Siberia, my research has kept me rather closer to home. In fact, my most recent field experience took place just a couple of hours down the M1 (and round the M25) in Surrey.
Here, Dr. Carl Griffin (University of Sussex) and I visited the Runnymede eco-village, a low-impact, squatter settlement in woodland on the outskirts of Egham. The community – established in June 2012 by a group calling themselves the Diggers 2012 – consists of a communal kitchen and a geodesic dome, which act as meeting spaces at the centre of a widely scattered group of tents, wooden huts and other temporary structures. Built on disused land owned by a private property developer, the camp is envisioned by those living there as a radical community, a challenge to a ‘system in crisis’ and part of a wider political project to reform capitalist property relations and more equitably distribute land. Significantly, despite three attempts by the developer to evict them from the site, the Diggers are still there 15 months on.
This was our second visit to the Runnymede eco-village, which we’re interested in as part of a larger project on the contemporary land reform movement and their mobilizations of radical history – in this case, the 17th-century Diggers who founded an agrarian community at nearby St George’s Hill. Having slipped and slithered through the mud, we finally found the community amongst the trees – this time in full leaf, which made the site look surprisingly different to our last visit. The Diggers have been busy since then too. There’s now a brick-built oven, two guest houses and some very impressive log dwellings, and the group have identified a new spring and terraced part of the hill slope to grow vegetables. There are also free-range hens pottering about the site, which are kept for eggs though one or two have met their end in the cook’s pot! Given some truly dreadful weather, we spent most of the day hiding from the rain and interviewing the residents over cups of tea, before finally photographing the eco-village and the nearby Magna Carta memorial in surprise evening sunshine. All in a great day!
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