Yellow Advertiser
December 21, 2005

of a mild Christmas

Adrian and
Jane peeling sprouts    People
relaxing in the communal
HAPPY CAMPERS: Adrian Harris and Jane Lovell, left, cook while fellow protesters relax indoors.

Camp Bling Christmas

By Steve Neale

CHRISTMAS is about surprises, hopes and dreams.

But who'd have thought it? A Saxon King buried in Prittlewell in the 7th Century still pulling in the crowds.

A brass band will play at the sacred site on Christmas Eve.

Among the audience will be a hard core of 20 to 30 campaigners determined to see off the bulldozers scheduled to carve out a new road in 2006.

They will be joined by locals bearing gifts of food and drink for those who have braved icy conditions to man the barricades.

Christmas at Camp Bling is going to be something else.

Parklife - a coalition of local people and anti-road protesters opposed to the dualling of Priory Crescent - set out its intensions four years ago.

The group occupied the site in October determined to stop Southend Council. The local authority insists the £11 million road is vital to improving traffic flow.

Thousands of people opposed the scheme, which was given the go-ahead by [a] Government inspector in January.

While this is a battle of wills over public land, there is little common ground between the protesters and the council.

Shaun Qureshi, 34, spokesman for Parklife, is among the hardened campers preparing for Christmas outdoors. He quickly dismissed criticism that the protesters had had their say at the public inquiry before famously losing the argument. "They should go home," said a council spokesman of the winter sit-in.

Shaun shakes his head: "However we got here, the feeling remains the same - it's personal.

"Parklife instigated a road camp because we felt that it was the right thing to do, following lobbying, public engagement, direct action and other activities over the years.

"Camp Bling is about taking threatened land back for the local community, and giving people the opportunity to take action together to make a difference.

"We don't always take the chance to change the world around us, but this is one small way that matters and does just that."

Bling is perhaps unique in "protest camp" terms.

A cross section of the community - children, pensioners, car drivers - support the aims of the campaign.

If many can see the need for improved roads, something sticks in the throat over Priory Crescent. Not just because the Saxon burial is considered one of the best in the UK. (Southend Council plans to relocate it.) The land was council maintained open space until it was taken out of public use in 2004.

Ideas of public ownership drive Camp Bling's agenda. The aim is to see Government funding withdrawn, although the reality could see more money being thrown at it. A long and costly eviction some time in the Spring beckons.

The protesters remain defiant.

"Our message to people is come along to our street stalls, our regular meetings from January and support us in any way you can," says Mr Qureshi. "Spread the word, and check out our website."

It all sounds a bit like a festive fable. When was the last time a band of road protesters held back the bulldozers?

But then Parklife might just surprise us all. For many its a dream. A hope. Why not? It's Christmas.

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