SISTER (Stroud in Internationalist Solidarity Together for Earth Repairs) have reclaimed the space as the ‘SISTER Summer School’ and declared their intention to squat the empty Old County Library in Stroud Town Centre.
SISTER states that empty buildings are unjustifiable during these cost-of-living, housing and rental, energy, climate, and ecological crises. UK public services have been and continue to be systematically underfunded, dismantled, and privatised whilst CEOs hand out record profits to stakeholders, while the education system is failing to equip young people and communities with practical tools to solve our problems. Robin (29) – SISTER and The RYSE said:
“In unreasonable times, reasonable action is the only option. Reclaiming this space at a time when we’re so disconnected and seemingly unable to support each other is a reasonable act of commitment to the future of our community. Through the Summer School we’re reclaiming our right to the practical education of running our own lives. I was born and raised in Stroud, this is my home and I’m filled with hope to welcome the community and together build a more beautiful and powerful us.”
They argue that Gloucestershire County Council – the property owners of the Old County Library and the authority responsible for education in the county – are failing to effectively address any of these issues in a way that empowers the local community and, in many cases, is actively making them worse. As their response, Meg (21) from SISTER states that “the ‘SISTER Summer School’ has been taken in service to the community, as an act of self-repair, by coming together we’re taking matters into our own hands and providing the education we need to make the world a better place.”
SISTER, comprised of local young people, parents and teachers, intends to create a community site to challenge miseducation, run educational sessions (workshops, film screenings, crafts mornings, etc) and host community events. The group is part of a network of communities across the UK and the Global South working together on PRALER (the Planet Repairs Action Learning Educational Revolution). Together they support each other to break down barriers, liberate education and weave alternatives to neo-colonialism.
SISTER has been learning from the Otomi indigenous community in Mexico, who, after years of state violence and racism, occupied the National Institute for Indigenous Peoples in Mexico. Before the occupation, the institution had infringed on their rights, so the Otomi people turned the building into a community organising centre. They used one part of the building as a craft space, making Lele Rebelde dolls which are a symbol of resistance and their ancestral traditions, as well as a way to raise money. In 2022, SISTER raised money to bring one of these dolls to Stroud to establish the beginnings of an internationalist relationship and will be displaying it in the Summer School.
The SISTER Summer School will host local community campaigns, such as the youth-led School is a Crime Scene which is mobilising to challenge the miseducation in our Schools. Roma (19) says: ‘We can’t keep letting our young people go through schools that are killing their imagination, teaching obedience over curiosity and still telling the majority of people they’re stupid! We’ve got to reclaim our schools for education that helps us solve our problems, lifts people and empowers us all to build a better world, and so, of course, we’re super excited to be part of the SISTER Summer School!”
SISTER encourages everyone to drop by, have their say and get involved. You can follow their social media handles for event information and an invitation to sign an open letter to show your support for the project.