Published in the Guardian, October 13, 2019, by James Cartwright.
After almost 1,000 days camping out in a field near Blackpool and obstructing fracking operations, the ‘Nanas’ have seen off energy company Cuadrilla. James Cartwright meets the fearless female activists behind the yellow pinnies.
While the world applauds the child protesters taking to the streets, fewer eyes are on their mums and grandmothers, whose activism is altogether quieter. In August 2014, gangs of older women in yellow tabards and headscarves started to become a common sight on Preston New Road in Lancashire. They call themselves the “Nanas”, though not all are grandmas. They took the name as a nod to trust, family and tea, leaning into stereotypes of northern matriarchy. Their first project was to capture a field under planning application by Cuadrilla, a UK fossil fuels company seeking exploratory drilling rights for shale gas. They hopped over the fence, set up tents and claimed squatters’ rights, staying for three weeks. By the time they left, the Nanas had earned the support of 14,000 local residents and appointments at Manchester’s High Court, and their action, along with that of other campaigners, led to Lancashire County Council rejecting Cuadrilla’s fracking application, a decision later overturned by the then secretary of state, Sajid Javid.
In November 2018, Cuadrilla stopped drilling after multiple earth tremors, two of which breached the government’s traffic light system that requires fracking to be paused in the event of seismic activity that exceeds a magnitude of 0.5. Fracking resumed on 15 August 2019, but activity was suspended 11 days later, after the UK’s largest fracking-induced seismic event. Meet some of the women:
‘If you don’t stand up and do something, then who else will?’: Anjie Mosher, 49.
I’ve been an armchair activist for years. I’m a lesbian, and in the early 80s I’d done a bit of Section 28 business and got chased down my own street. But as the years went on I stopped being as active. I’d see things and think, “Huh, isn’t that dreadful?” and hope someone else would do something about it.
‘There’s a ball of rage inside me’: TinaRothery, 57.
I’ve lived in all sorts of countries and at all sorts of income levels. I worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and managed pubs in London. I’ve lived the good life with a maid and membership of the yacht club, and I’ve lived the harder life as a single parent rummaging for change down the back of a sofa. I’d always assumed I was fairly broad-minded, and then I came to activism and realised I wasn’t at all. Finding an army of women of a certain age was the biggest surprise – the realisation that there was this untapped resource.
‘I can’t have the future I imagined’: Kai Sinclair, 21
My mum’s quite ill and needs help walking. She wanted to come down here to look around and asked me to come with her. At the end of the day she went home and I didn’t. I moved into camp a week later. I’ve been here 14 months now. I’m a photographer, so when I first came down I thought it would be a good project, but very quickly I started leaving my camera at home and taking part in the protest myself. Since then I’ve explored a lot of different areas of activism. I went straight from being an observer to jumping in at the deep end. It’s only recently that I’ve started to explore the gentler side of protest, and that’s why I joined the Nanas.
‘I used to be in the police’: Tracey Booker, 58
I found out about fracking in the summer of 2017. I retired from the civil service in January 2018, so I’ve been able to spend a lot of time up here. I was a senior executive officer investigating suicides in prisons. Before that I was a probation officer, and before that I was a police officer.
‘We aren’t typical activists’: Jo Catlow-Morris, 57
To be honest, it wasn’t the fracking that initially drew me to this place, it was the community – their honesty and their truthfulness and their resolve. I’ve sympathised with the cause for a long time, and because I’m in the performing arts people would always ask me to come down and choreograph a performance or a song at the gates. It was only when I gave up my job as a programme leader at a local uni that I was able to get more involved.
In the years since, the Nanas have mounted an often good-humoured war of attrition against Cuadrilla, whose drilling has caused tremors in the area. At the Bell Mouth, the entrance to the Preston New Road site, they sing, dance, knit, pray, read poems and monologues, and obstruct fracking activity wherever possible. They even have their own stage show and samba band. And every Wednesday, dressed in white, they stage a call for calm at a site where tensions between protesters and police often erupt into violence.
Two weeks ago, just a couple of days before the Nanas celebrated 1,000 days of activism at Preston New Road, Cuadrilla announced that it would engage in no further fracking activity on the site before its licence expires at the end of November. The Nanas are now free to enjoy a frack-free Christmas, though they remain on site to make sure.