Extract from RUSH! The Making of a Climate Activist

Tamsin Omond

‘Oi – can you lend a hand bringing the hay?’

He was definitely looking in my direction and almost certainly shouting to me.

I had been at the Heathrow Climate Camp in Sipson village for two hours. The bus from the nearest station, West Drayton, had been filled with people carrying the same sort of luggage: rucksacks, sleeping bags and tents. It was my first visit to Sipson, an 11th century village that, for the past fifty years, has been on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport. As Heathrow has grown, its perimeter fence has inched ever closer to Sipson. The airport’s most recent expansion plan, a third runway, will involve demolishing Sipson and scattering its residents around the country. At the bus stop in the village centre we got out and joined the stream of people on their way to the camp.

We helped one another over the hay bale barricades. The first thing I saw as I stood cautiously on top of them, gripping a stranger’s hand, were three long metal poles balanced against each other to make a huge tripod, holding a boy twenty metres high so he could hook up a banner which said ‘THIS PLANET HAS NO EMERGENCY EXITS’. Below him stretched the camp: hundreds of coloured tents, marquees and groups of people walking on duck board footpaths carrying tent poles, tarpaulins or food. The gate where I entered was staffed by five people wearing orange bibs that read ‘legal support’; behind them was the ‘welcome tent’, three wind-turbines and a row of compost toilets. The legal supporters asked whether we’d been stopped and searched on the way into the camp. We all had. Were the police bothered to give us a reason? They weren’t, but we had all been presented with pink slips. ‘Keep them,’ the campers laughed, ‘there’s a competition on. First person to get to a hundred stop and search forms wins.’ Smiles broke out across the group and we newcomers laughed too. It did seem a bit ridiculous that there were three policemen to every camper.

I’d pitched my tent and was about to have a proper look around when the boy called for help with the hay. He was lanky, with very pale arms protruding from a T-shirt of the band The Kooks. There was a bit of a chill in the air and I wondered how he was warm enough. I thought more hay must be needed at the gate, and so I ran over, happy to make a friend.

‘Hey, I’m John.’

‘Tamsin.’ We shook hands.

‘Right let’s go and sort out the pissers.’

The whats? I followed him, but I wasn’t sure that I’d be much use. The camp was full of people who seemed to know exactly what they were doing. They used words like ‘pissers’, ‘photovoltaic’ and ‘consensus’, and while I had an inkling what each of these terms might mean, I had no idea how I could help to sort anything out. Carrying hay, though, seemed a fairly easy thing to do, so I nodded and followed him.

‘First time on camp?’


‘How are you liking it?’

‘Well I only got here a couple of hours ago, but it seems good. Somehow...pure.’

‘Oh yup, it’s the ideal all right. Except for the planes overhead. Last year we were at Drax (another word that I didn’t quite understand). It was beautiful there – middle of the countryside – pure bliss – except for the whopping great power station of course.’

So that was what Drax was. I wanted to take a little bow for having worked it out. It’s the biggest coal-fired power station in Europe and the site of the first ever Climate Camp. I smiled and nodded as though I had known this all along.

‘Right, first we’ve got to remove the soaked bales.’

We’d arrived in front of the compost toilets. I still felt none the wiser, but as I looked at the doors I noticed that some were labelled ‘pissers’ and others ‘shitters’. So this is what I was expected to do... John handed me a pair of industrial rubber gloves, his own hands already shrink-wrapped.

‘We need to take this bale out, wheel it over there, break it down and then put a fresh bale in. There are only three that need doing so it shouldn’t take long.’

I smiled and wished that I hadn’t been so determined to be helpful. This might have been John’s utopia but it certainly wasn’t mine. In my imaginary paradise, the water that I flush down my loo would not be a fifth of the water I use every day, but if that means compost toilets I don’t want to be the girl in charge of them. John seemed to notice my dismay, quietly smirking to himself, but it was only my second hour on camp and I wasn’t going to lose my cool. I pulled on the gloves and squared up to the pisser.

It was hard work moving the bales, and I soon had my jacket off as well, understanding now how he stayed so warm. Fifteen minutes of trying not to breathe through my nose later and the job was done! I had made my first contribution to the running of the camp, and hoped this would exempt me from being on toilet duty again. John began walking away, and I asked him where he was off to.

‘There’s a meeting in my neighbourhood. I’m facilitating.’

I bit the bullet. If I kept ignoring words that I didn’t understand I was going to get very lost in conversations.

‘What’s that?’



He glanced me over, smiled and started to explain, as we walked together to the ‘South Coast’ section of the camp.

‘We hold our meetings by consensus…’

I looked at him, confused.

‘…which means that every single person in a meeting can contribute to it. So we usually hold meetings as neighbourhoods – there’s London, which is huge and a bitch to facilitate; Scotland, the North-East, Yorkshire: quite a few, really. At those meetings we might discuss what tasks need doing and how we’re going to be sure we get them done. But sometimes we have more serious issues to discuss, like – ‘Do we want media on site?’ or ‘How will we liaise with the police?’ – when we have those discussions in a neighbourhood, we’ll try and come up with some proposals which then go back to the whole camp. So we all get to have our say on how the camp’s run, all the proposals get heard, and finally we get consensus on what to do. Everyone’s part of making decisions, and everyone helps decide how the camp is run.’

‘And that works?!’

‘Uhmm, yes, well…slowly. It definitely works when it’s camp things that we can take our time over. But it breaks when we need an immediate response. So if the police send out a press release saying that weapons have been found here then we need to send out a press release really fast to counter it. It would be crazy to get the whole camp to do that, so instead we have working groups who can make those decisions for us. Anyone can be trained and become part of a working group – if you’re interested in the media, you join the media working group, and then you go to smaller consensus meetings, where people who can be bothered with the press write press releases and keep sending them out.’

‘I think that’s where I want to go: the media working group.’ I liked the way this sounded, precise and efficient. Maybe in this area of the camp my past three years studying English would be of some practical use.

‘They’ve got a training session tomorrow at two in the media tent. Go along, get trained up and get involved. Easy as that.’

He disappeared into the South Coast tent and I found myself alone again. Around me, everyone seemed pretty busy. The last time I’d camped was at a festival the year before, and amongst all these tents I was aware of a familiar sense of excitement and anticipation – but that was where the comparison ended. Instead of sitting around with a can of beer in one hand and a fag in the other, talking to their friends about the band they’d just seen, everyone here was moving around, looking for something that needed to be done, calling a group together and then getting the thing done. What was weird was that somehow, whether they were changing the pisser’s hay bales or chopping vegetables for hours, the people here seemed to be having more fun than the crowd at any festival I’ve ever been to. We’d come to Heathrow to create something different.

I was at the camp because, in my last week at university, two of my friends had ordered me to go. They’d lent me some climate science to get me good and scared about the impending apocalypse, and told me what building a third runway at Heathrow would mean for the climate.