Cast your mind back to the April of 2020, at the start of the coronavirus lockdown when the country was on pause, locals were using their one hour of exercise time to tread the paths at Weekley Hall Wood. It was there a photocopied, laminated document attached to a tree was spotted.
It was a planning application to build 5-6 huge warehouses which would destroy 40,000 square metres of woodland and an adjacent wildflower meadow. An area used by scores of local residents for dog walking, running, cycling and family time to alleviate the stress of the unprecedented event gripping the world.
A small team of concerned campaigners formed ‘Save Weekley Hall Wood’ and an online petition was launched… harnessing social media. Within a weekend over 3000 people had signed and 600 objections had been officially made to the council.
The first few months were incredibly busy, but with the help of a lot of local press attention the petition surpassed 10,000 signatures. The team grew in size with many experts in their field joining. We conducted a pedestrian survey which counted 1000 visitors to the Wood on a Sunday and 700 on a Thursday in May 2020.
We heard from so many people how much the meadow and woodland meant to them. The link between nature and improved mental health is well known, so residents were distraught when they found out this special place could be destroyed for more unnecessary warehousing, especially with so much valuable land already taken for the building of massive sheds. The people of Kettering were rightly outraged.
The land is owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. The meadow was at one time common land as a map of 1719 shows. Local people could use it for grazing and for growing crops. It was taken from the people in 1807 when it was enclosed by Act of Parliament. In the early 1900s the southernmost part of the ancient Rockingham Forest was destroyed and the area was quarried for ironstone before being rewilded when the quarries were filled in in the late 1970s. Local people have still had access to the area but the planning application to build warehouses on the meadow would deny them this – it represents the final act of enclosure.
The Duke of Buccleuch, Richard Montagu Douglas Scott, is the largest private landowner in the UK. He owns the nearby Boughton House country estate as well as a large part of the surrounding area. His ancestors massacred 40-50 people in 1607 at the nearby village of Newton during the Midland Revolt protests against enclosure.
We don’t think anyone expected that three years after Buccleuch Property put in their planning application, that the meadow and woodland would still be there, but at the moment they are.
The planning application is still pending having not yet been determined by the council.
There have been two large protests at council planning meetings against an outline application for a smaller single warehouse on the edge of the meadow. Initially deferred at the first meeting in August 2021, it was then granted in May 2022.
The amount of community spirit that the campaign has garnered is nothing short of astounding. The petition currently has nearly 23,000 signatures, which is a huge amount for a town of only 63,000 residents.
We produced calendars for 2021, 2022 and 2023 with photos of the woodland and meadow sent in by local people and we sold more than 1300 calendars over those two years.
The team continues to grow and we have engaged the local community with festivals, art, stalls, gigs, street sales, walks, family fun days and litter picks. We have become an integral part of Kettering life.
In August 2023 we found out that Buccleuch Property has taken the planning decision to the Government Planning Inspectorate. The Public Inquiry starts on the 28th November and runs for two weeks. We are crowdfunding for a barrister and legal team at the moment.
As well as the committed team and generous local organisations, we’ve also received more national support too.
The bestselling author, illustrator and activist Nick Hayes donated his ‘Amamus’ design to our campaign and this has been used on t-shirts, prints and tea towels to raise essential funds. Nick’s essential books ‘The Book of Trespass’ and ‘The Trespasser’s Companion’ feature the Duke of Buccleuch, the Newton Massacre and even the Save Weekley Hall Wood campaign itself. Nick spoke at the Greenbelt Festival about the Right To Roam campaign at Boughton House in August 2022 and John from the team was invited on stage to address the crowd about the Duke’s plans to destroy nature.
The Latin word ‘Amo’ means ‘I love’ and is the Duke of Buccleuch’s family motto, Nick created ‘Amamus’ which means ‘We love’.
In September 2022 comedian Mark Watson played an impromptu gig on Kettering Market Place and ended up improvising a very funny plea to the Duke to stop the destruction!