A Family Affair: 'Dad would be proud of what I do'

Christiana Tugwell, 15 and an eco-protester, left home in July to set up a camp on an 11-acre site in Hockley, Essex. She is campaigning against Countryside Residential's proposal to build 66 luxury homes there. Her mother Maria, 53, is a teacher and lives nearby with her son Eddie, 13, and their two goats
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Christiana

I was like any normal child, a bit demanding and a bit ungrateful. I played with toys like Barbies, but quickly got bored and coloured their faces blue. I preferred reading books. I was a bit of a daddy's girl and during family rows, I would side with my dad.

When I started grammar school, I was bullied by the other children. It was a mental rather than physical thing, but I couldn't handle it five days running. Dad encouraged me to leave school, and although mum was initially against it, she finally agreed to let me stay at home. I knew my parents wanted what was best for me, and home was always a haven. I left school at 11: my Dad was very ill with cancer and I had to look after him. My mum tried to teach me, but I ended up basically teaching myself. If she wanted to teach when it was sunny, I wanted to be in the garden. When I was ready to study, she would be cooking the dinner. It was never a problem, because I always got the work done.

My dad dying [from cancer, in March 1997] was really horrible, the worst thing that could ever happen. But it helped pull me and my mother together. I think my dad would have been proud of what I am doing. He was a great believer in people taking action.

I began organising the local campaign against Countryside Residential and started RAD (Residents Against Development) at the beginning of the year. Local residents were against the developments, but their letters to the council were not enough. To raise some tension, I started camping on the proposed development site in July of this year. I was the ring- leader and had to bully some friends to join me. At first, we slept on cushions under the stars.

My mum's initial reaction was "you're going to get cold" and "are you sure you want to do this?" After the first week, she sent some friends to try to make me come home. They said I'd get into trouble, but I was determined to stay. I even stayed at the camp for three nights on my own. Mum wasn't happy, but she never tried to drag me out (then again, I'm not very draggable). Even though she wanted me home, she was always supportive, and even brought us vegetarian sausages.

Mum and I don't always see eye to eye on everything. But we agree that as long as what I want to do is not completely stupid, she lets me do it. I'm very stubborn, if I think I can do it, normally I can. I'd never done anything like this before, apart from a few anti-McDonald's demos. I don't see myself as a rebel. People who try to rebel against something, usually want to be a bit contrary and stir up some trouble. Although we both support the campaign, our methods are very different. She can't climb trees, dig tunnels or camp out. Her job is to write letters and do important paper work.

She worries about the possible violence on behalf of the evictors. I'm anxious too, but there won't be any violence on our part, we are pacifists. I don't want to worry her, but stopping the development is more important. It's all worked out pretty well so far - I'm not dead. I recently had an operation to remove a cancerous tumour, everyone said I'd get an infection living on the camp, but I didn't. I take good care of myself - I'm fairly hygienic. Some girls my age are prostitutes or take heroin, so what I'm doing isn't really that bad.

I wouldn't like to be like most girls my age: they listen to crap music like the Spice Girls. I'm not image conscious, I wear these clothes for comfort and I've always wanted dreadlocks. Probably the only thing I have in common with most 15-year-olds, is that I wipe my bum. I hate shopping: what's the point in wearing dresses and make-up? I'm ugly anyway.

The media interest in the campaign has created a bit of conflict between my mum and me. I don't want my personal life in the media. Mum thinks any publicity is good for the campaign. She can be a bit wearing. She'll ask questions over and over again. I wish she had the ability to understand the first time, rather than the fifth. Sometimes, I think she doesn't want to understand.

But she really is an all right person, and we are quite similar in some ways. We are both stubborn and she definitely has the protesting gene in her. Recently she was arguing with someone from Countryside Residential, and I felt really proud.

Maria

I was a mild protester when I was younger. My husband John and I, were members of the Green Party, Green Peace and Friends of the Earth, so was raised in that kind of environment. She was brought up by her father until she was about five, while I was working as a teacher. They became very close. She was a terrible toddler - we were lucky to get away with one tantrum a day. Her brother, Eddie, is much easier to get along with.

was always very clever - she was reading Enid Blyton at the age of six and Agatha Christie at ten. She passed the eleven plus and went to grammar school. She wasn't interested in fashion or wearing make- up: she read books in the playground. The other girls started picking on her, calling her "boffin". I went to the school and the teachers said she should watch Top of the Pops, to have something to talk to her friends about. This really upset me. It coincided with the discovery that she had inherited thyroid cancer from her father. It was all very worrying.

Her father told me to withdraw her from school, and then we found Education Otherwise, an organisation for home-educated children, where we got lots of advice.

My husband's cancer started to get worse and I left work. was at home, she helped to nurse him, so he didn't have to go into a hospice. She was actually with him when he died in March 1997. And she was very comforting to me after my husband's death.

When I was told about the camp, I wasn't concerned. She had been camping in gardens and fields with her friends before. At the time, I was campaigning against development with other people. I was writing letters and lobbying MPs. But whenever a councillor came to talk to me, it was about moving off the land. They weren't interested in discussing my letters or the development plans.

Her protest is stopping the development, so in one way, I am pleased. But I don't want her on the camp. I'm worried about the eviction: it will be dangerous. She might get hurt when the police come. I know a few people blame me for 's actions. But I can't stop her: she's beyond my control, and has a mind of her own. At least she's not out pubbing and clubbing: her way of life is preferable to that. And I wouldn't want her to be fashion conscious.

When she was accepted at a college to do A-levels, I was really happy. But she decided she would rather be an eco-warrior, or an eco-protester as she likes to call herself, than go to college.

I was angry, we had a row and she slumped off to the camp. I thought, shall I go and throttle her, or shall I do some leafleting for the campaign? I decided to do some leafleting, and a neighbour came out of her house and said: "Thank your daughter for all she's done for us." In a way, it made me feel proud.

I thought the camp was just a laugh over the holidays and she would go back to college. I think the reason she's stayed so long, is because she has been joined by all these eco-protesters. They have carried the battle forward - and I think their influence is good.

Our relationship is a bit stormy at the moment - we seem to rub each other up the wrong way. can be very bolshy and does bully me sometimes. But we want the same things and I have to admit, what she is doing is working.

Interviews by Daisy Price

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