When Occupy met the mums of a middle-class nappy valley

An unlikely alliance has been forged to save an adventure playground from council cuts

Kevin Rawlinson@kevinJrawlinson
Monday 07 January 2013 20:36
Occupy protesters have set up a camp to try to halt staffing cuts at Battersea Park
Occupy protesters have set up a camp to try to halt staffing cuts at Battersea Park

One group has faced the riot police; the other is more used to the strongly worded letter. While Occupy London and a group of concerned residents of Wandsworth, south-west London, may not make obvious bedfellows, they have joined forces in an attempt to save an adventure playground from planned council cuts.

While insults and accusations of anti-social behaviour were hurled at Occupy London’s first home outside St Paul’s Cathedral, cartons of orange juice and packets of bacon are what their new hosts in one of London’s more desirable boroughs throw over the fences.

Jane Eades, 68, a retired teacher, is no beginner when it comes to fighting for what she wants; but she never thought she would see the day she would become involved in an Occupy-style protest.

The leading member of Wandsworth Against Cuts describes herself as more of a “grumpy old woman” than a renegade. “I am quite a mild person; this sort of protest campaign is very strange to me. I am one of those people who might negotiate and compromise,” she said.

She has been at the forefront of many campaigns in her local community, she said, but she is more accustomed to running petitions and writing letters than camping out and defying the bulldozers.

She said she was “really grateful to the occupiers here because the council has to be willing to compromise and to listen. This is a different style of protest than perhaps we are used to but we are glad that there are people like them around because, otherwise, I do not know how we would stop this”.

Wandsworth Against Cuts, whose members have helped run petitions and door-to-door campaigns against the evictions of rioters’ families in the past, hatched a plan to stop the council sacking the staff who supervise the play area in Battersea Park, just across the river from Chelsea, west London.

Council leaders want to let them go as part of a £200,000 rebuilding plan. But campaigners say that the upgrade would leave them worse off because parents would no longer be able to leave their children there and they would lose the apparatus built and maintained by those who use the park.

They were joined by a small group of former Occupy London members who had heard about their campaign last weekend. Soon, they had set up a small camp.

“We had meetings where we have tried to understand the desires of the community campaign group and sculpt our own protest to match them,” said Dan Ashman, 28, an Occupy London member and a veteran of the St Paul’s camp and a smaller one at Leyton marsh in east London.

He agreed that the two main groups present were not the most obvious partners, but said they were “two styles of protest working towards the same goal”. He added: “There is the conventional route where people resist by lobbying the council and setting up petitions, but they have been ignored.”

Wandsworth is one of London’s most affluent residential areas and is popular with young families. But, like many parts of the capital, it still has significant pockets of deprivation.

Kathy Tracey, Wandsworth Borough Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said: “These are well-organised protesters with their own agenda. We hope that once they have made their point, they will allow us to get on with the work required to reopen the playground.”

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