The following article was kindly written for us by Simon Smith, former co-ordinator of SCAN.
20th September 2019 and like many from SCAN I was marching around Swindon centre in support of the global earth strike. I got talking to others about another big environmental demonstration in the town centre. The day West Swindon marched on the Civic Offices, few remembered it so I was asked to take a wander down memory lane.
It was all about the area we know as Shaw Forest Park. An area of former landfill creating an important ecological and access link between Peatmoor Lagoon and the River Ray Parkway. Now a mixture of trees and grassy areas, it was planted up as part of the Great Western Community Forest. Thousands of people helped through community tree planting days. Thousands of people is not an exaggeration. In one day in February 1995 alone 6,000 people turned up to plant 5,800 trees. There were many more community and volunteer tree planting days over the following years.
I had no idea of the strength of local ownership and outright love for the site that had been created through its development. Not until it all (ahem) kicked off in March 2004 when Swindon Town Football Club announced plans to build a new stadium there.
Overnight the Swindon Forest Protection Group was formed by locals with thousands of people demonstrating at the site and signing a petition. This campaigning culminated in a five-mile demonstration between the site and the Civic Offices on the 5 June. I can’t tell you how many people were there but I recall a long snake of a march. This protest felt very different, there were few traditional environmental campaigners. Instead it was made up of West Swindonians who had been turned into environmental campaigners by circumstances.
Shortly afterwards On July 22nd a full Council meeting voted overwhelmingly to not only reject the stadium proposal but to also protect and retained the area as Community Forest for future generations.
If you don’t know it please do visit Shaw Forest Park. Climb to the top and look around. The green corridors it connects to along the lake to Peatmoor Community Woodland and across to the River Ray can be clearly seen. They can also be walked and cycled. You may also be looking over the rooftops of the surrounding communities with a new appreciation. These are the homes of the people who both helped create this wonderful area and fought to protect it when threatened.
Fought and won!