The developers want to shift the Runnymede forest eco-village to make way for a luxury housing development.
Today, an 800-year-old charter, a bunch of hippies living in a forest and a multi-million pound housing development will all be the topics of discussion in an English court of law.
Eight hundred years ago today, the Magna Carta – a document cited by some as the cornerstone of modern democracy – was sealed by King John in Runnymede, Surrey. Anniversary celebrations will be held there today, less than two miles from an eco-village in a nearby forest. However, the residents of said eco-village won't be celebrating until the evening, as they'll be spending today in court, defending their right to stay, as developers Orchid Runnymede Ltd move to vacate the 50 onsite residences to make way for a luxury housing estate named Magna Carta Park.
The initial eviction process began on the 20th of March. Those living on the site were given 24 hours to vacate the land, and the following day were visited by a bailiff and handed a court order.
A man who calls himself Jedi has been living in his self-built dwelling on the land since 2012. He'll act as defence witness for the case, and believes that destroying Runnymede eco-village is an act of treason by the Queen.
"It seems really apt we are here," says Jedi. "We're creating a dialogue about land rights in the 21st century, and we are less than two miles from the place where the Magna Carta was created – a document designed [in part] to protect the rights of the individual from greater powers unjustly deposing them of land.
"For us, living on unoccupied land makes perfect sense. You've got people that want to live independently, without benefits, [causing] low impact [to the environment] and [living] sustainably. Isn't this a good thing? Shouldn't it be encouraged, or at least explored as an option? Why don't you just allocate land to these people instead of making them homeless and treating them like criminals? Or just create a bill that makes it OK for people to access unused land? There's a housing crisis, for fuck's sake!"
Jedi feels it's symbolic that a document created to protect the English from exploitative higher powers will share the name of a luxury development that few regular English people will be able to afford to live in. He adds that, even at a minor level, it's only going to worsen an already dire UK housing market, all at the expense of 50-plus residents who have nowhere else to go, and who Jedi claims could easily coexist on the unused land.
Of course, whether you agree with him or not is up to you – the land may be unused, and forcibly evicting a bunch of people from their homes seems a very shitty thing to do, but considering it's owned by the developers, they're perfectly within their rights to do so. What Jedi does have on his side – theoretically, at least – is Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which echoes the Magna Carta. This point states that everyone has the "right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence".
"This convention doesn't mean we expect to live here forever," says Jedi, "but I live here – this is my home, and at the end of the day, being removed by force without notice is upsetting and unnecessary. To be honest, if the company provided us with adequate time to move on, I think most people living in Runnymede [would] agree [to leave]."
The Runnymede eco-village, established in 2012 by the Occupy Orphans, has evolved into a fully functioning off-the-grid community. The dwellings, which are scattered across the 80 acres of land, are constructed from found materials sourced from building sites and cultivated from the land itself. They use composting toilets, a mixture of solar and battery power for energy and the local spring as a water supply. It's an inspiring set-up, and one developers like Orchid Runnymede Ltd could learn a lot from in terms of sustainability, but isn't without its issues.
"Originally we were camping down Windsor way, but were constantly facing injunctions," says Vincent Edmunds, who has been with the community since its inception. He admits that life in Runnymede, although empowering and inspiring, isn't always ideal. English winter sees human occupants drop and vermin occupants rise. "The winters are cold, and generally it's only the hardened crew that stick around," he says.
According to developers, the cohabitation of the forest dwellers is in breech of their duty of care and a safety risk for both the residents and the workers. The developers said they had no choice but to ask the squatters to leave: "We very much hope they do this peacefully in the interests of all concerned," they said.
It's highly unlikely the residents will put up a violent fight for their right to stay, but as today's court case indicates, they're not exactly giving the developers an easy ride.
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