By NICOLA FENN
THE tree houses, watch towers and tents have become synonymous with the campaign to stop a road scheme next to Priory Park in Southend.
On Saturday, the site known as Camp Bling was packed with hundreds of visitors eager to find out more about the protest and living conditions on the site.
The 20-strong band of protesters set up the camp six months ago to stop a dual-carriageway being built in Priory Crescent to tackle the traffic bottleneck at Cuckoo Corner.
The road scheme neighbours the site where the gold-encrusted possessions of a Saxon king were discovered, giving it the name Camp Bling.
As the ribbon for the site's new visitors' centre was cut by Kieran Jordan, eight, on Saturday, people scrambled to get inside to find out more about the archaeological find.
But just as interesting was how the protesters lived.
Christiana Tugwell, 22, lives locally but decided to move on site with her 17-month-old son, Aaron, in support of the cause.
Her treehouse is surprisingly warm, comfortable and homely.
She said the cold is not a problem thanks to their wood-burning stove. She is confident Aaron is getting a better life experience living on camp.
She said: "He is meeting a lot of people, most of them local - it's brilliant.
"Living in a house, you're isolated, you've got to go out to meet people but here everyone meets in the communal room for breakfast and dinner. We even share the childcare, if someone needs to do something for an hour, there's always someone to help.
"But I'm still doing something valuable for the community and I think this is how everybody should be living."
It is a strange turn of events that the protesters are living much as the Saxons buried beneath them, would have lived.
Spokesman Adrian Harris said: "We are getting a lot of support, not just from people in Southend but even from Poland.
"We never expected this many people today, we really didn't know what to expect, but it's been fantastic - this is for everyone in Southend and they should have access to it."
The information centre will be open Monday to Friday, between 2pm and 6pm, although the camp is open to visitors any time, according to Adrian.
He said: "We want people to come down, just because there's a gate there and we're strangers doesn't mean you can't come in for a cup of tea."
Kirsty Collins, 19, of Ruskin Avenue, Southend, was curious about the site and what the protesters were trying to achieve - now she is a regular at Camp Bling. She said: "I think it's inspiring what they are doing. They are self-sufficient and campaigning on something they believe in.
"I hope they are successful because they are doing it for everybody."
It was the first time Jackie Ellingworth, 44, of High Street, Great Wakering, pictured with daughers Jessica, eight, Harriett, six, and Verity, four, had visited Camp Bling, although she drives past all the time.
She said: "People have got to know what's going on, we can't let them walk all over everything.
"We don't know what's there and we don't want it concreted in forever.
"I would like to think the protesters are going to win - it's hard to tell but they are doing a really good job and giving everyone food for thought."
Kim Reagan, 38, who lives in Arnold Avenue, Southend, took her sons, Tommy, six and Charlie, nine, to Camp Bling because she feels it is important for them to see what the protesters are achieving.
She said: "It's good for the children of today to see how we take our lives for granted and I think future generations need to see poeple fight for what's important.
"I think what they are doing is absolutely fantastic and am in full support of what they are trying to achieve."
Sheena Walker, of Buckland, Shoebury, is a member of Park Life and the Priory Park Preservation Society and is another regular visitor to Camp Bling.
She said: "The road plans are not going to help the traffic problems and I don't know anybody who wants it to go ahead. They discovered the tomb underneath this site and carried on as if nothing had happened."