Friday, 12 June 2015

In the Shadow of the Magna Carta BBC news website today come to Runnymede for the festival for Democracy June 12-15 #olsx #onn #radicalassembly #occupydemocracy

In the shadow of Magna Carta

Eco village

The 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta by King John at Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames, is on Monday, 15 June. Today, the site, between Windsor and Staines, is part of the National Trust - but bordering it, a group have set up what they call Runnymede Eco-Village. 

The small community is based in woodland earmarked for housing, and eviction notices have been served. They call themselves Diggers, after a group of land activists who occupied St George's Hill in 1649.

Photographer Daniella Zalcman stumbled upon the group in February this year, and, after a few phone calls, began to visit every week or so.

Cooking at the campsite

Zalcman was made welcome very quickly. "I was lucky to get to know most of the villagers before they were served an eviction notice at the end of March, when local journalists began to descend on the place en masse," she says.

"I've slept there, I've eaten there, I've helped to do the dishes and take out the garbage. So I think my access and my relationship with the group is a little different and a little more intimate."

That is something that really comes across in the work. Zalcman's pictures invite the viewer into the community. The soft, shallow depth of field produced by the Yashica D TLR she uses for much of her work helps in that respect.

Man sitting in a tree

"It's been pretty amazing to watch the forest transition from winter to summer," she says.

"In April, the entire hill was coated in bluebells. Now, the terraced permaculture space in the centre of the village is full of vegetables and greens."

Sign on the fence that surrounds the community

The community consists of those who have been on site for a number of years and others who drift in and out.

Magna Carta outlined some basic human rights, including a fair trial and limits on taxation - the principle being that no-one was above the law, including the King, and it is seen as the birth of our modern democracy.

Ieuan Davies
Ieuan Davies

Ieuan Davies, a resident from the beginning of the community, says: "I'm unemployed, and I've reached a point in my life where I need a sabbatical from everything.

"I worked for 20 years as a violin restorer, but I want something different now.

"I want to live with fresh air, and I want to be free.

"I'm doing this because I can.

"We just want fairness and freedom.

"People want us living in boxes, working jobs, paying taxes.

"We're not doing any of that. We'll be here for the celebration of Magna Carta, freedom under law. That's ironic, isn't it?

"I don't use money much. I eat food that's been thrown out [in supermarket bins], and I can survive for weeks without money. I've achieved a stress-free life."

The date for the court hearing to settle eviction is set for 15 June at Guildford County Court., the same day that the Queen and other dignitaries will be celebrating the anniversary of Magna Carta, a short distance from the village.

Here are a selection of Zalcman's pictures from her series entitled To Make a Wasteland Grow.

Carrying a front door
Most of the homes are made from woven tree branches, salvaged timber, and found objects from local skips
Homes on the site
The community is set on Cooper's Hill, from where they can see Windsor Castle
Making tea
Keleigh and Shanti make tea from dandelions and nettle leaves
Policeman at a meeting in the community
"Local officers come through frequently, though most of them maintain a fairly cordial relationship with the Diggers," says Zalcman
Angela amidst the bluebells
Vinny shaving
Vinny has been at the site for nearly three years, he says: "I see this as an opportunity to have a voice. I personally don't think we can beat the system, but it's created an opportunity to open a discussion of land rights. We've become the guardians of this land for a few years - we pick up people who have slipped through the net and give them refuge. Everyone fits in here. We have freedom, yes, but we govern ourselves"
An axe on a log
Lisa sits around the communal fire
Lisa sits around the communal fire outside the Long House, where there is a constant stream of people stopping for tea, for a meal, to warm up, or to catch up with the others
Joe boxing
Joe jabs at a punching bag hung near the Round House
"Arun is one of several Diggers who works during the week. He uses the income to support his 18-year-old daughter - otherwise, he doesn't have much use for money," says Zalcman
Residents of the community
Keleigh and Thorn
Keleigh and Thorn
People walking on a pile of logs
Community members are divided between those who want to move on and find a new, more secure place to live, and those who want to stay and take a stand during eviction. Some long-time residents have already left.
Various scenes from the camp

You can see more of Daniella Zalcman's work on her website or her pictures of Sunday Soldiers that I published last year.

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