What I Learned from the Nanas: Why Climate Justice is Intergenerational Justice 

In 2019, Sofia spent month at the Camp of New Hope, a five-year communal occupation camp near a fracking plant in Lancashire. The camp was guided by a group of older women called ‘The Nanas,’ who emphasised community, welfare, and education, showing how to blend climate justice with feminist values…

In 2019, I spent a month living at the Camp of New Hope near Preston, Lancashire. New Hope was a five-year communal occupation camp – complete with a living room, generator, composting toilets, and a kitchen – at the gates of a Cuadrilla fracking plant. The community in the area, bolstered by the arrival of many passionate environmental activists, trespassed and set up the camp to house people to monitor Cuadrilla’s movements 24/7. The plant’s proximity (in visible distance) to a local primary school and its triggering of the largest man-made earthquake in the UK’s history sparked a clear aim: activists needed to stop this dangerous technology from operating. 

Opposition, which banded together an unlikely mix of local Conservative farming voters and ardent young climate activists, quickly realized that they would have to embrace non-hierarchical and anarchist ideals to keep direct action up to stop the plant. In my month living there, I conducted interviews with my fellow activists. I wanted to know how the camp had formed when climate justice and non-hierarchical values had rarely been a primary focus (or sometimes something they had completely disagreed with!) for many involved. 

After the camp was set up, interviewees told me that more and more people with time and passion on their hands began to come. Some stayed for years, while others lived nearby and dropped in. Everyone who arrived, including myself, was taken under the wings of the long-term occupants, who were mostly a group of older women called ‘The Nanas’.They prioritized community-building, welfare, and education at the camp. It soon became natural for everyone to adopt principles of justice and communal living. I felt it myself. Staying there transformed activism before your eyes as you saw people of so many backgrounds and ages training in all the vital tasks to keep it afloat. 

At the time of their biggest successes, the Camp of New Hope activists were able to grind Cuadrilla’s activities to a halt through locking onto the camp gates and publishing media detailing their environmental atrocities, including unauthorised dumping of chemical waste in farmers’ fields. Just before the 2019 General Election, the government announced a moratorium on fracking in the UK. 

The success of 2019 was also the time that I was interviewing at the camp. A strong bond between ‘the Nanas’ and young activists living there that year came through in my research. They even formed their own branch of the camp, built upon feminist values of care and containing a welfare space and children’s nursery. I wanted to know when along the way climate justice, feminism, and intergenerational justice became intertwined. One interviewee said that she came to the camp because her grandson had joined as an activist. She wanted to ensure he had a clean and healthy environment to bring his own family up in and was particularly keen to ensure that his Lancashire identity wasn’t threatened by the degradation of their village by fracking. She felt keenly that Lancashire had always been left behind and exploited by the Conservative government. 

Beyond these values of care for children and stewardship of the land, which interestingly often overlap with Conservative stewardship and heritage values itself, many people at the camp simply felt that they wanted to be a part of something creative and new. They had tried open letters, Council appeals (one woman even became a local councillor on a slate), and media pitches, and yet were landed with a fracking plant and a 24/7 police surveillance unit to boot. In one particularly scary lock-on, I watched one of the Nanas have her arm broken by the police. It seemed that people were simply united with the goal to stop a “common evil,” and found that the best way to care for themselves and grow their movement was to adopt values of feminism and justice. I found in my interviews that respondents spoke about realising after they entered the camp that environmental harms were linked to class, gender, and age injustice, with the youngest, poorest, and oldest members of the Preston community being the most likely people to live near and be powerless to stop the fracking plant. Seeing this firsthand sparked a common movement for them. 

I also felt a transformation at the camp. Living in College for three years during my undergraduate degree, I simply didn’t interact with older members of the community unless I tried to. I realised at the Camp for New Hope how much I was missing out in doing this. Firstly, climate justice means justice for everyone who is harmed by climate change and excluded from decision-making around it. This means elderly (especially elderly women!) who are no longer viewed favourably by society once they are past child-bearing and working age. I felt so welcomed and cared for when I met the Nanas, who were such strong advocates fighting for a better life for themselves and young people. They challenged police perceptions of women by locking on to plant gates, withone Nana laughing when telling me how freaked out the police were by putting handcuffs on a grandma and consistently staged creative, accessible and eye-catching direct actions using knitting, Samba playing and dancing in white dresses.

Whether we realise it or not, we learn and inherit so much from the work and experience of older feminists. They have already learned practical and moral lessons on how to stage direct actions and prioritise well-being and care. They have seen political and social shifts happen that we are only now confronting, and most importantly, they have often learned the futility of caring about social constraints and boundaries placed on women. I think that we often make mistakes as young people (especially in student circles) in activism by not supporting and inviting in children and older people to movements. We are so much more likely to find extra creativity, hope, and genuine political transformation when people of all ages come together, and we simply reinforce myths told to us by the patriarchy when we assume older women (and all people!) don’t have left wing values, care for younger people, or useful contributions to movements. We need everyone in a community to implement the changes we want to see. As I learned at the New Hope Camp, the way to build a movement is to learn, listen and love across all ages of feminists. 

Article by Sophia, Environmental Editor


Lancashire ‘Nana’ threatened with prison during Buckingham Palace protest – DRILL OR DROP?

BBC Radio 4 – Witch – Downloads

Caliban and the Witch – Wikipedia