Since January, on the side of a stretch of road in Preston, a group of local residents have put their lives on hold to express concerns about the environment, democracy, and the future they’re leaving for their kids and grandkids. For the past month, they’ve had outsiders bring some extra help. And they’ve found that together, they’re stronger.
“The knowledge is out there to prove that damage will be done. Tourism on the Fylde will die, the farming industry on the Fylde will die,” local protester Peter Roberts said.
He’s not alone in being concerned – one poll shows 66 percent of Lancashire residents are worried about shale gas company Cuadrilla’s plans to frack in their area.
For the past four weeks, the local protesters have been joined by a national campaign group called Reclaim the Power (RTP) who are helping to plan and carry out actions against Cuadrilla’s site, as part of the “rolling resistance”.
Campaigners from further afield have come to join the month of action, and have been welcomed by the local protesters grateful to have additional numbers, more support and better organisation, even if some outside the protest questioned their motives.
While all the protesters’ goals vary to some extent, they all want to put an end to fracking in one way or another.
John Tootill owns Maple Farm, where RTP have set up a community hub, and sees protesting as a responsibility: “We are doing all we can to safeguard our children, and that’s our duty. We as individuals are united fighting this industry,” he said.
One group of local protesters who have been involved since January this year are known as the Nanas. These generally older women are protesting on behalf of future generations. Tina Rothery, one of the Nanas, said: “My most important job in society is as a grandmother.
“As hard and as horrible and as time-consuming as this is, I’m not fighting for a day with my granddaughter, I’m fighting for a future where she has safe air.”
One of the oldest protesters is 85-year-old Anne Power, who represents the Green Party in Preston. She thinks the local community is being manipulated by those that want to frack: “It’s bad enough that it’s about oil when we’ve got solar, we’ve got wave power, but this gas is not going to help local people – it’s the lies that are told about it that drive me mental,” she said.
Power was at the meeting where Lancashire residents rejected fracking, “The great news that they’d voted to stop the fracking in Lancashire, it was wonderful news. And then the Tory government came and turned it all on its head.”
Power comes to Preston New Road whenever she can to support the protesters, she said.
“They’re doing their best, it’s obviously dangerous but these people, from all different walks of life but educated in the business of fracking, and know what they’re against, they are willing to give up their normal lives to come here.”
So-called ‘lock-ons’ have taken place every working day since RTP arrived, with protesters attaching themselves to cars and other heavy objects, or to each other, blocking access to the gate.
The lock-ons have succeeded in enforcing road closures, forcing lorries to make u-turns, and delaying the work Cuadrilla are attempting to start.
The technique is favoured as it can take hours to free the protesters before they are able to move them off the road, and deliveries are unable to take place for hours at a time.
Although these have taken place since January, RTP have added some expertise, making the lock-ons more effective at disrupting Cuadrilla’s activities. RTP claims these disruptions have caused millions of pounds in losses for Cuadrilla.
Aside from blocking access to the gate, protesters have gone straight to suppliers’ sites, and to Cuadrilla's HQ to voice their concerns.
Protestershave also stopped convoys making their way to Cuadrilla’s siteby either slow walking or in some cases climbing aboard the trucks, making it impossible for them to drive on and reach their destination.
The protesters regret the delays being caused to local residents, and the amount of police manpower being devoted to the site, but insist that their cause makes this worthwhile and that they way police choose to manage the roadblocks is the main cause of traffic disruption.
Henry Grove is one of a group of students from Oxford who came for a few days to add to the numbers at the gate.
Grove put off writing his dissertation to come help local protesters because he thinks it’s more important. “I’ve come to stand in solidarity with Lancashire. We need to help local people who are fighting for a cleaner future.”
Another protester, Linda, who came from Exeter felt the need to make her way up the country as: “If it starts here it’s just set a precedent for the rest of the country.”
Henry and Linda were two of the 15 people who had put themselves in front of seven lorries attempting to deliver supplies to Cuadrilla’s site on Tuesday July 25, leading to police closing a stretch of Preston New Road for around 6 hours.
The group, like the larger protest group ,was made up of locals as well as those who had travelled from afar, some of which had been there for months, and some that could only spare a few days.
Whether or not these protests will make the impact the campaigners hope is a different matter. Each protester has a different perspective on what winning will look for them, and how to achieve their goals.
Given the force of Cuadrilla, and the central government backing the company, it’s not easy to see a frack free future, but the protesters are resolute that they are willing to stick it out for the long haul.
Rothery has been part of the anti-fracking movement for six years and is proud that in that time “they’re not fracking yet.” However, in six years, the company haven’t given up either.
There are small victories along the way, with suppliers pulling out of contracts with Cuadrilla. Moore’s Readymix were forced to cease supplying after protesters blockaded their St. Anne’s depot earlier this year. Welsh police will also cease manning the protests with the force's Police and Crime Commissioner tweeting that “Cuadrilla should pay for their own security.”
Rothery said these victories prove that “the anti-fracking community as a whole has been phenomenally successful.” And that if they can continue disrupting Cuadrilla’s functions it’s only a matter of time before the movement is a success.
“They always give up before we do. They’ve tried to take our signs away before, and I’ve wrestled with police to get them back. Now they just leave them. It’s amazing how easily they give up”, she said. And she thinks that’s how this will all end.
Having said that Rothery, like many other protesters, is prepared to stay as long as it takes. “The thing with the anti-fracking movement is that we can’t lose, because it won’t be over until we succeed. We will not accept losing, because even if the site started, we’d still be here.”
She said hitting Cuadrilla’s finances is a key way to stop the process. “To stop the industry we need to affect their finances, and their supply chain.”
Power meanwhile thinks ignorance is one of the big issues regarding the protest, “The police are making it very hard for us to be acceptable and understood locally. They make out that we are the criminals blocking the road, when they block the road. I’m so furious at the way the police distort the truth.”
Roberts said: “Our achievement will be the truth about the fracking system, and the damage it’s done. That realisation should cause fracking to be stopped everywhere.”
He thinks education is key to getting more people on board: “A lot of people don’t know, a lot of people don’t wish to know, because it’s scary.”
The end of July signals the end of the month of action as RTP leave the locals to continue the work. The protesters said they are grateful for all the work they’ve done this month, and that actions will continue once they’ve gone, with plans in place throughout August.
Groups throughout the country have promised to lend support to replace the numbers that RTP brought with them, organising buses to ferry people to the site, take part in actions, and help run the community hub RTP have helped establish in the form of meal prep and wash-up duty.
Ellie Groves is sure the actions will continue. “We are leaving a lot of the infrastructure at the camp for the locals to use, we’re gonna be coming back to support and show that we’re not giving up.”
Photo credits: Mat Hope/DeSmog UK CC BY-SA 2.0