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The Wembley way

The struggle against a city academy in north London controlled by a group of hedge fund managers might be a sign of things to come. Hank and Jean Roberts tell the story of the campaign

September 16, 2010
3 min read

In 2004, Lord Levy, Tony Blair’s ‘pimp’ for getting the super rich to fund Blair’s school academies project, visited the then Labour-run Brent Council and persuaded it to support the building of an academy on the Wembley Park sports ground. As usual this was kept secret – but the unions soon found out.

We fought back hard using a variety of tactics, which escalated over the long struggle to save the sports ground. It began with the usual meetings, pickets of council meetings, letter-writing and petitions. The council was embarrassed but determined to proceed. We knew we were gathering support and in 2006 their stance against the academy played a key part in the Lib Dem win at the council elections (see box, right). The academy was withdrawn – victory.

A few months later, however, it was all back on the cards. The new consultation was even more of a con than the first one and we treated it with the contempt it deserved. Meetings were disrupted and we even took over one and ran it ourselves. We produced a number of scurrilous broadsheets – scurrilous because the truth was scurrilous! Eventually we occupied the sports ground. This started with just two of us striking up a tent and then others joined us.

The original sponsor of the proposed academy backed out – but another group stepped in: ARK, a group of multi-millionaire hedge fund speculators (leading lights are Arki Busson, Paul Marshall and Stanley Fink), who worked closely with all three main parliamentary parties to ensure that they stayed on board with their privatisation agenda.

Our occupation continued. Our protest actions included building tree houses on the site, numerous public meetings, forming an alliance with the local residents association, organising a ‘flash camp’ for a week outside the town hall, launching a legal challenge, getting thousands to sign our petition, having over 100 camping on the site overnight, and having many hundreds visiting during the day and supporting some of the fundraising events.

We left after six months when the lease on the sports ground was extended for a year. Then the council reneged on that agreement and moved to evict the people who ran the site, including a nursery. We occupied again but this time they went for court orders. The fantastic support meant even this had to be delayed. We held a rooftop protest by camping on the roof. Finally, in July 2009, after we had been evicted, another group reoccupied the site before being violently removed after a couple of weeks, when the whole sports ground was secured with guard dogs patrolling.

We held up the process for five years, which we consider a partial victory. We have to remember that we are in a war to save state education and we will not achieve complete victory in every battle. In making it increasingly difficult for the privateers, though, we start to turn the tide. Our action spawned others all over the country, including the occupation of the school roof at Lewisham Bridge, which defeated the academy proposal there, and a victorious campaign at Royal Docks school in Newham against ARK taking it over.

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