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An Eco Community With A Difference.

River Thames

Written by Cari Steel

Clear your mind for a moment. I am going to tell you about a group of people who formed an eco community facility that was designed to practice and enact the concepts of sustainable living and permaculture workshops. They envisioned the centre being a meeting point for community and environmental groups. Wind turbines were erected and the facility was taken off grid so that they could use a more renewable way of getting their energy. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? And never more appropriate or urgent than in the current unstable climate. Would you like to attend, hear what they have to say, and maybe learn something important? Well I’m afraid that you can’t. Did I mention that this eco-space was created by squatters? They have since been evicted from the facility that they created.

Raven’s Ait before the eviction


Let’s rewind a little. If you were to take a day trip down The Thames, and were on your way to Hampton Court Palace from the direction of London, you would pass a man made island called Raven’s Ait. The building which sits on the island has long been the site of weddings and parties, but last year went into receivership and has since laid dormant. Around March a group of people moved in. Made up of a collective of groups, including members of The Circle Community (an environmental community project) the new residents quickly went to work on creating an ‘Eco -Conference Center’. Rather than shying away, or creating a barrier between themselves and their new neighbours, the group were hospitable and welcoming to an extent that had not previously been seen on this island. Visitors from the mainland were welcome to come and take part in the projects. A small ferry was laid on for the transport. Once on the island, visitors (who were not permitted to bring alcohol or drugs) were encouraged to take part in the workshops and discussions which made up the purpose of the islands occupancy. The key question raised by the group was this: “what are the solutions to the environmentally critical situation we and our children face? And how do we implement them locally and globally?”

The message was obviously pertinent because the community received between 150 -200 visitors each weekend. By the end of the nine weeks that the occupants had been in situ, they had played host to 4,000 curious people. Being a Surrey girl for most of my life, I know exactly what residents of this leafy commuter belt want; and that is a timetable of activities that run towards the New-Agey. Throw in a yoga class and watch the 4×4′s race towards it. In this respect, the activists fit right in, especially with their busy schedule of workshops. One look at their website or facebook page – did I mention how media savvy they are? – gave you a plethora of choices; massage and healing treatments, yoga sessions, an eco cinema, a permaculture vegetable plot, a solar powered recording studio at your disposal…. Of course, the message and meaning behind these activities were not to fill in the afternoon hours of a bored housewife. The aim was to showcase this community as an example of collaborative sustainable living, and to promote and stimulate dialogue about climate change.

So, cut to today, and the island once again lies dormant. On Friday 1st May at 5 am, the local police, under the orders of Kingston Council, raided the island and evicted the residents. I had been looking forward to attending the various BBQ’s and events that were to be taking place on the island that Bank Holiday Weekend. Instead, I found a small group of men and women sat on the riverbank, looking over at the island which now had a couple of police and security guards camped out instead.(which is costing tax payers £2,00 a day)


I sat down and chatted with one of the core founders of the group, Phoenix. He told me that while the group were obviously sad that they have been removed from the island, their ultimate wish, even whilst occupying the island, is that it will continue to be a community centre for local residents. Their updated website says “the future plan we are discussing with the council is to possibly hand over the island in up to about 6-8 weeks to a steering Committee made up of up to 20 local groups and national and international projects.”


Phoenix explained that there will be a steering committee meeting with Kingston council on this friday, 8th May. All are welcome to attend, check the Raven’s Ait website for further details. They are also working on a proposal to Kingston council; this will be a computer generated plan designed by students and lecturers from Kingston University which will detail plans for the island being run as a sustainable community. In the meantime, Phoenix, and the other members of the community remain positive that their message of climate change action will not go unheeded. Raven’s Ait served as an invaluable platform for them at the time, but they are a strong and determined bunch, and I know that they will rise again.


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