Summer camp

IssueSeptember 2009
Feature by Milan Rai , Emily Johns

The first-ever Peace News Summer Camp was held at Westmill Farm near Watchfield in Oxfordshire from 23-27 July. Over 120 people came to take part in discussions, trainings and debates on topics as varied as nonviolence (does it protect the state?), education (can education be libertarian?), and the fate of the anti-war movement (who’s more to blame for our limitations, the Stop The War Coalition or the anti-authoritarian wing of the movement?).

Fuelled by wonderful (vegan) food from Veggies of Nottingham, we constructed or erected water pipelines and taps, compost toilets, marquees, fire pits, a bar, a mini wind turbine (visible behind it, five giant turbines across the road) and a community.

Beforehand, the organising committee wrote: “Peace News Summer Camp will be based on some of the things that are needed for a good community; encouraging participation and self-government, and minimising its impact on the planet.”

Every morning began with a camp meeting, with work groups reporting on their needs and plans for the day, announcements (and a co-operative game). There were no rotas (except the welcome tent). Jobs just got done, with joy (even sleeping overnight in the far-away welcome tent).

Evenings ended around the campfire or in some other collective entertainment: poetry for Adrian Mitchell, a play-reading, felt-making (see p15), a talent show MC-ed by former PN co-editor Howard Clark. It was the best of camps!

The programme for Peace News Summer Camp 2009 is still visible at: more thoughts
At the end of the Peace News Summer Camp, just after the main marquee came down, a woman stopped to say goodbye. (She’d sung at the talent show on Sunday night – you would have sworn Joni Mitchell was in the tent.) “Before coming on the camp, I’d had a difficult fortnight, and I was feeling pretty burnt out. Being here has been like a fortnight in the Maldives – spiritually!” She was glowing.

One of the presenters, who had had little exposure to radical nonviolence before, wrote to us afterwards to say much the same: “I arrived feeling jaded, but went home feeling inspired.”

One woman, who only visited for the day, announced to the camp before leaving: “I’ve put my fears in a box and thrown them away!” A man said: “I’m many things, including a Climate Camp activist and a No Borders activist. Now I’m honoured to be a Peace News activist as well as everything else.”

These were some of the many magical moments during the first-ever Peace News Summer Camp. Perhaps the most remarkable thing was an ever-present sense of liberation. From the first morning, when we all completed the construction of the camp together, to the final round of evaluation (after which we did the hokey-cokey), people seemed to be revelling in freedom and responsibility (they went together).

The organisers had set themselves two main priorities: creating a sense of community, and bringing together a wide cross-section of people – not the kind of people you’d expect to meet at a “peace movement gathering”. As it turned out, both things happened wonderfully, unfolding in the gorgeous surroundings of Westmill Farm, generously provided by peace activist and farmer Adam Twine.


One of the things that we valued very much was the dialogue that happened between people who are explicitly committed to nonviolence and activists who do not wish to make such an explicit commitment.

Greater understanding also developed between people inside and outside the Socialist Workers Party – we were lucky enough to have at least two members of the SWP at the camp to put their point of view. Unfortunately the Stop The War Coalition decided not to send a speaker to our plenary session on “What Next for the Anti-War Movement”, but we did have a former treasurer of the organisation at the earlier session on what went wrong in 2003.

The future

Two of the themes of the “What Next” session were: a desire for localisation, for groups to engage with the war machine in their own part of the country; and a wish to strengthen our own networks and connections, to make stronger bonds between activists in our related movements.

We hope Peace News Summer Camp 2010 – and before then the PN Winter Gathering – will contribute to both these aims. Nottingham in January isn’t the Maldives in July, but we promise the central heating will be toasty and we’ll be building a community just as spiritually liberating!