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reclaim the streets

Reclaim the Streets, Nottingham, Saturday 19th September 1998

  A crowd gathered spontaneously in Nottingham's Old Market Square (known as Slab Square to locals) to protest at car usage, though in the end there were fewer people than one might have expected, probably only around 150 to 200. This made it hard to get going, when the crowd again entirely spontaneously decided to exercise their right to use the roads they were turned back at the first two attempts to get out of the Market Square.

The first was up Friar Lane towards Maid Marian Way, a 1960s dual-carriageway which obliterated the former mediaeval quarter of Nottingham, and which until recently planted with shrubs was widely believe to be the ugliest city-centre road in the UK. The second was towards Chapel Bar, which ends in a pedestrian subway so was pretty doomed as an attempt (for some reason the side turn down Mount Street was not taken).


Third attempt the crowd made it up Market Street to the Theatre Royal, a little bit of to-and-fro at the top but the leaders climbed over traffic islands to evade a police line. Stopped again within a few hundred yards at the corner of Wollaton Street and Sherwood Street whilst the leaders negotiated with police which way they could go. Shunted off down Sherwood Street, past the central police station (no hassle though :)), then back onto Mansfield Road, the main road northwards from the city centre.

Suddenly there's a blast of music from in front and the walk was there! A bit of jockying for road space, the police forming lines to try to squeeze the crowd up (no pushing though) whilst people sat down in the road to establish the maximum presence. After 15 minutes or so it all settled down and all could relax, though all kudos to those who stayed sat opposite the police all afternoon to maintain the ground.

Someone was distributing chalks to all the children to draw on the road with :) I heard that one van full of sound equipment had been stopped before getting there, but at least the one did get through.


For most of the afternoon it was really good fun and sensitively done on both sides, people were able to go in and out across the police line a couple of times to get food and to visit toilets. One child had his recorder and played, which lots of folk thought was great :) By mid afternoon though, the police had hardened up and were not even letting people in to walk past the party on the pavement, even those not involved in it.

I was attempting to walk up Mansfield Road at the time and I remonstrated with a sergeant but was told the change in orders had come from someone at police headquarters who wasn't even there and could not be contacted by the public. Tried a couple of other ways in but no dice - "Write a letter to him", fat lot of good that does when the problem is here-and-now. I think I'm minded to make a complaint about that, as I was prevented from using the street by nothing other than the police, certainly not the RtS people, and the excuses the police gave about public danger and disorder were transparently false, as one could see even from the outside.


I didn't see how it ended as I had to get a bus home. I was concerned that the police seemed, from my vantage point at a stop up the road, to be bringing in extra forces, and I hope that people were allowed to disperse peacably and without harrassment.

Still, the music was mostly good and to someone's taste if not necessarily mine, and one could dance to it even outside the police line. I'm glad that Reclaim The Streets makes a stand against the promotion of vehicular traffic in our city centres and living spaces.

Nick Leverton

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