How did you get involved in the campaign against fracking?
In August 2011 a friend informed me that a shale gas exploratory company had set up in my village and I consequently attended a meeting at the local village hall which was organized by a member of the Green Party. Members of Frack Off from Brighton were there to answer any questions, as they were already very familiar with the process [fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is an environmentally damaging technique used to extract oil or gas from rock]. There were about 40 people present at the open meeting and the film Fracking Hell was shown, followed by a Q&A. Afterwards, a group of 20 of us decided that we needed to find out more about the issues and take action, as it was evident that this process was unacceptable. A week later we met and REAF (Ribble Estuary Against Fracking) was formed.
What have been your biggest successes so far? And the biggest challenges?
Camp Frack in September 2011 was a big learning curve for REAF. The group was very new and none of us knew each other. We had never campaigned before on a high-profile issue such as we knew this would be. The Camp was a weekend of networking, organizing, skill-sharing and protest attended by campaigners and activists from all over the country. The weekend was an eye-opening success culminating in a march to the site, something that, as residents, was completely new to us.
The biggest challenge is to keep the public interest going against the industry PR spin, to keep ideas fresh and maintain a focused campaign
Other successes have been raising awareness locally with presentations and Q&A sessions, confronting the drilling company Cuadrilla with difficult questions and, by highlighting the concerns in the Fylde area, the subsequent forming of many other successful campaign groups such as RAFF (Residents’ Action on Fylde Fracking) and Frack Free Fylde. There have been many successful public meetings with politicians and government agencies who got short shrift from concerned residents. We have been lucky enough to work with some amazing dedicated people from Frack-Off, Friends of the Earth, Campaign against Climate Change and the Co-op’s Toxic Fuel campaign.
I would say the biggest challenge as a group is to keep the public interest going against the industry PR spin, to keep ideas fresh and maintain a focused campaign.
You will be one of the speakers at the Friends of the Earth Conference this weekend. What are you looking forward to about it?
I look forward to meeting like-minded people who care enough to give up their time to do something positive towards maintaining a clean planet. I am especially interested in renewable energy, and think that it is an important part of our campaign to be able to talk about alternatives to extreme energy. I am hoping to come away with some interesting campaign ideas that we can use in Lancashire. I am also very keen to hear from the other speakers and to listen to their experiences in their campaigns.
You’ll be speaking on a panel with community campaigners from Wales and from Mozambique, who are also resisting environmental injustice. Have you had contact with environmental campaigners beyond England before?
No, so it will be educational to hear how other campaigners operate within the systems of their own countries and the particular ways in which they lobby for environmental rights.
What would be your advice to someone looking to set up a community campaign?
Keep things fresh and ensure the campaign has a strategic direction to it. Most importantly, don’t give up – and don’t let local apathy discourage you!
New Internationalist is the media partner for the Friends of the Earth’s 2012 Conference from 14-16 September in London. With all 500 tickets sold, and 60 sessions planned, the event will be the biggest in Friends of the Earth’s 41-year history.
Both day tickets and weekend tickets for Conference 2012 are fully booked. However, 100 further tickets for the rally with Vivienne Westwood, Caroline Lucas, Lidy Nacpil and Andy Atkins (5pm, Saturday 15 September) are available here. This event will also be live-streamed. Follow the #foeconf hashtag for more information.