On a wet weekend in August I set off to join 2000 other people camping in a field for a week. Armed only with a tent and a sound knowledge of the issues surrounding climate change, I had no idea what to expect.
The reason for camping on the site near Rochester in Kent this year was to oppose the building of a new coal – fired power station (the first in the UK in 30 years) to replace an old one at Kingsnorth. The new power station will emit 6 – 8 million tonnes of CO2 per year and is only 20% more efficient than the old one that it will replace. The new station will be the first of a new generation of coal fired power stations around the UK which will be a disaster for climate change.

What overwhelmed me when I arrived was the incredible organisation of the camp and the high spirited nature of everybody there. A walking caravan of protesters had arrived 3 days early and set up marquees, toilets, lanes for people to walk on and a central kitchen.

While the camp aimed to make its mark on the energy generating industry the same could not be said of the field which was to be returned to its original state at the end of the camp. Lanes for people to walk on were set up to reduce damage and recycling bins could be found almost everywhere. The toilets were not your typical festival toilets. The cubicles were constructed on site using off cuts of wood and looked very professional and clean. All waste; wet on straw bales and solids in wheeley bins, was taken off site and composted ready to grow potatoes in for next year! Clean hand basins with running water and biodegradable anti-bacterial soap were provided next to each block.

The camp was divided into 11 neighbourhoods based on geographical regions of the UK – West Mids, London, Scotland, Oxford etc. In each neighbourhood there were between 100 and 200 people all camping close to a central marquee. All cooking was communal within the neighbourhoods with food supplied by the central kitchen reliant on donations from campers. The food was fantastic; delicious cinnamon porridge to start the day followed by hot soup, salad and couscous for lunch and scrumptious curry, chilli, pasta or stew for tea – all vegan of course!

Each morning, after the porridge, every neighbourhood held a meeting – an integral part of the camp. The meeting structure was based on consensus decision making; a collective, direct democracy model. As a first time camper (and a teacher!) I was impressed by this meeting structure and how inclusive it was. Everyone is asked for their opinion on each decision to be made, there are three choices; agree, stand aside or block the motion. What astounded me was that if one person blocked a motion, the motion would not go ahead. If someone did not like the motion but realised that blocking it would be detrimental to the group, then they could opt to stand aside instead. Decisions and motions ranged from; what to do regarding the police tactics on site, where to position toilet blocks, to how to house people who had tents confiscated etc. One person from each neighbourhood then reported to a central meeting. Roles were taken on by different people every day so there was no sense of top – down leadership or any leadership at all, just people working together to achieve a goal.

There really was a place and a role for everyone at the camp but it was a working camp, not a holiday. Everyone was focussed on the issues and each day was crammed full of workshops in 10 tents ranging from debate with George Monbiot, to transition town discussion, world lawn tango championship, make your own biofuels, agrofuels discussion from FOE, sustainable living, vegan cake baking etc. People from all walks of life came to take action, educate themselves, debate and live communally. I met teachers, lawyers, students, doctors, dentists, buskers, travellers and IT workers some prepared to take direct action for the cause, some not. I did not sit alone for longer than 5 minutes without engaging in deep discussion with a complete stranger. I was amazed by how friendly and open the campers were.

Choices for the evenings’ entertainment ranged from live music, story telling, sing-a-longs, drum and bass dancing to cinema; all powered using renewable energy captured on site. Instead of paying for the cinema, customers were asked to pedal for their entrance fee to generate electricity; they were never short of volunteers! One night a marquee full of dancing campers were entertained by dance music powered by two solar panels and a wind turbine, showing that we do not have to go back to the dark ages to avert the climate crisis.

On Saturday, the Day of Action, the camp divided into 5 groups; 2 groups attempted to shut down Kingsnorth power station by entering by river or through fences which resulted in 30 arrests. Spokeswoman Emily Davies said in a press release, “It shows how serious we are about stopping climate change that people from all walks of life were prepared, despite blatantly intimidatory policing, to take direct action to disrupt E.ON. This Olympic effort certainly deserves a gold medal.” 2 groups of over 1000 people held a colourful and peaceful protest march up to the gates of the power station and one group stayed behind to run the camp and bake vegan cakes! National, local and independent media provided great coverage of the day all helping to raise the profile of the camp and its cause.

Overall, it was an awe inspiring week of hard work, education, action,  fun, thought provoking discussion and debate. If I was feeling pessimistic about climate change, the politics involved and the seemingly increasing disinterest of others on the issues, then I have returned with an overwhelming sense of faith that, in the words of a random camper “the future is not yet written”. There is hope that another world is possible; a world with less dependence on oil, where its inhabitants can and do tread lightly on the soil and where people and politicians listen to each other and create the change that is needed. The motto of the camp that I will take with me is Ghandi words – “Never doubt that a small group of like minded people can change the world.” Bring on next years camp!