By Revd Neil Lambert
I expect by now you have heard friends and neighbours discussing the ranges. One side claiming health & safety issues and locking the gates, the other side outraged and warning of an MOD land grab. Our community stands to lose access to 12% of the ranges—and not just any 12% – the area is one of the most used, and most accessible.
How do we respond? My sister Val—whom many of you know from her visits, and the wonderful blessings she has shared at Zoom services—is a great sounding board and in discussing this issue together we searched for wisdom in this matter. The theme that kept coming up was to be unwavering in speaking truth to power. So what does this mean?
It means doing our homework and unpicking the legal status of the space to find the truth. Some sources say this is MOD land. Other say it is Ash Common, and the ancient rights of access still apply. Byelaws were created to protect people from harm during dangerous activities. The right of access at other times has never been removed. We must diligently seek the truth and be the voice of challenge when lies and misunderstandings are masquerading as fact.
It means shining a light on injustice, and calling out patterns of behaviour that are unacceptable. We have seen the “land grab” approach elsewhere and we will not tolerate it here. It means fighting for the consultation we are entitled to and celebrating the wonderful benefits of the ranges, so that we can all see what we stand to lose.
It means listening to all our neighbours, not just the loudest ones or the most powerful ones. Hear the voices of our children and young people. See the plight of those with disabilities fighting for access to open space. Seek out the stories of the older generation who can paint the picture for us of all that the ranges have been to this community and should be in the future. Involve the busy parents, the introverts, those whose anxiety prevents them from speaking out. We must give all of them a voice, and make sure they are represented as we take a seat at the table.
It means being creative, both in seeking solutions (What can we do to keep people safe instead of locking the gates?) and in how we go about standing our ground (If we are not being listened to, we will find ways to make our voices heard!)
It’s not about the politics. As a church, we do not need to ‘take sides’ or choose a political stance to make a difference. Our power lies not in polarising the community and creating discord, but in being bringing people together. We are united in love, both for our friends and for our enemies. We strive to become oaks of righteousness, rooted in God’s love and seeking the common good.
Speaking truth to power is a phrase first used by the Quakers in the 1950’s. It came to prominence in 1942 when Baynard Rusting, an American civil rights leader, wrote that… The role of a religious group was to “speak the truth to power”, which is what we intend to do. Our elected representatives have, it would appear, grossly underestimated the importance of this issue to our community, and the anger that there seems to be at the apparent disregard of the MOD and DIO for their neighbours and the people they share the ranges with. They need to know that we will not back down, and we will protect and demand access to the ranges not only for us , but for future generations.