The positive self-organisation of South Essex

Positive stories celebrating community self-organisation are a relative rarity in our modern cynical era, while Essex is often the butt of London jokes about self-interested Tory jingoism, something the following blog aims to rectify.

This post is a celebration of people and groups who just go out and get on with stuff – people and groups we’ll do our level best to support. Before we go any further, here’s a little warning … Some of those mentioned are not political in any way shape or form – they’re just local residents frustrated at the inaction of their local councils and who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands…

A couple of us volunteer as gardeners at the community run Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope – We remember what it was like back in 2007 and 2008 when we contested the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward for the Independent Working Class Association. It was a litter strewn, unloved no go area that most local people tried to avoid. Now, it’s a much loved, well used community asset although as the volunteers will admit, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to bring the park up to the standard we’d like! The point is that now the park is being well maintained, more people are using it and with the volunteer run cafe, it’s becoming a hub for the local community. The benefits of this in health and well being are plain for all to see.

The residents who’ve taken over the running of Hardie Park wouldn’t see themselves as having an overt political agenda – all they want is a park that’s a valuable community asset. Yes, there’s a bit of a hierarchy with the running of the park and we know anarcho purists would hate it. As far as we’re concerned it’s a) a project that has made a tangible difference to the quality of life in Stanford-le-Hope and b) in it’s own way, it’s bringing aspects of running a community asset closer to the grassroots. That ticks enough boxes for us to actively support it.

Then there’s the Billericay Community Garden – This was started by a small group of local residents on a patch of overgrown ground behind a vicarage. The aim of the project is to get locals interested in growing their own food with as little impact on the environment as possible – the emphasis is very much on the organic. Along with our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we helped them in their first year with the donkey work at the site and advising them on setting up a committee. It’s a project that’s had a few ups and downs but at the moment, as you can see from the photos on their Facebook page, it’s thriving.

Southend … it must be something in the air because there’s a lot going on down there. It’s about people seeing a problem and rather than waiting for someone else to deal with it, they get on and fix it themselves. In a similar, organic gardening vein to the above, there’s the Southend in Transition Community Allotment. Promoting repair and re-use as opposed to chucking stuff in the bin when it breaks, here’s the SouthMenders Southend Repair Cafe. Then there’s Southend Little Free Pantry – in their own words ‘is a place where members of our community can come to help themselves to a few groceries to help them through a time of need, whether it is financially or mobility impaired. It is also there as a judgement free space where people can share what they don’t need and possibly exchange for something they are in need of.’ These are just some of the people we worked with towards the end of last year going into this one to build the Southend Radical Fair that took place at The Railway on Saturday May 8th.

For a full list of local groups who get things done, take a look at the sidebar of The Estuary Alternative blog which is our sister project created specifically to support and promote positive initiatives along the Thames estuary – All of the above groups in their own individual ways are playing a part in building a new, better world inside the decaying, dysfunctional one we currently endure. We’re proud to do what we can to offer our support to these initiatives. Sure, a lot of them wouldn’t satisfy the demanding criteria of the nitpicking, purist element of what passes for an anarchist movement these days. Tough … To be honest, we much prefer to deal with the above mentioned who get things done rather than some elements in the anarchist movement who just give us a sodding headache.

We’ve been working closely with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) – since the early part of 2014. A lot of that work is hands on practical work on the estates. That means the community clean ups and gardening we’ve done on Nursery Gardens in Laindon, the Pattocks and on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is what BASHA did working alongside members of the local community at the Pattocks: Cleaning up the Pattocks –  It’s working alongside members of the community who care about their estates, are pissed off with being brushed off by Basildon Council and have taken it upon themselves to make a practical difference.

Recently, us and BASHA have teamed up with the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) – who are working their butts off to improve conditions on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is exactly the kind of grassroots group we want to see on the estates – if every estate in Basildon had a group like this, there would be some changes! What we do is support, advise and facilitate the work of VHCG. This is just one of many posts we’ve put up on the South Essex Stirrer highlighting the issues and the shite VHCG and BASHA have to deal with: Silenced.


This first appeared on the On Uncertain Ground blog.