Right across the road from my house the land rises up into an area called the East Hill, which is part of Hastings Country Park.
It’s one of the great joys of living where I do. You can walk for miles along the cliff tops, looking out to sea with the most wonderful views and spectacular coastal scenery.
Part of it is an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which the BBC included as one of their ‘Seven Natural Wonders’ of South East England. It has inspired many famous artists, including Holman Hunt, who painted Lost Sheep up there (it’s in the Tate Britain).
Just being up there, in a spot called Ecclesbourne Meadow, makes my heart soar like nothing else.
Me and my family walk there all the time and the East Hill is like a massive extended garden for all the kids who live around us, as it has been for generation after generation of Hastings children.
Back in March we went up for a family walk to find someone had built a hideous great house up there, ruining the views. We also discovered that our favourite route, through the AONB called Ecclesbourne Glen was closed, because there’d been a landslip.
I went home in shock and spent the rest of the day on Google trying to find out what had happened – how that terrible house had been allowed, what had caused the landslip.
I can’t remember how it all unfolded from there now, but a few weeks passed and I had made connections with other people who feel as I do, some of whom were already gathering amazingly detailed intelligence about what had happened
One day in May there was a meeting round my dining table with people I’d never met before, followed by one at someone else’s kitchen table and a group called Save Ecclesbourne Glen was formed.
Our Facebook page now has 1200 plus followers and we’ve had donations adding up to several thousand pounds to pay for the barrister who helped us block the appeal for retrospective planning permission for that hideous – and as it turns out, illegal – house.
One of our first events was a big picnic up on the hill next to the house. I was the first one up there, terrified that no one would come, but then they started to arrive, small figures on the horizon, carrying placards and banners until there were hundreds of us and an atmosphere like a mini festival. It was inspiring.
Since then the fight has turned out to be far more complex, arduous and distressing than any of us had imagined it could be. It has made me question my belief in the democratic process and even my political affiliations.
But I will never give up, even though at times it feels like the town Council is trying to bore and/or bludgeon us into it.
It’s taken up an unbelievable amount of time and energy, but I will never regret getting involved.
Apart from the satisfaction of knowing that I am trying to make a difference and there are lots of people out there who appreciate it, I’ve met some absolutely fantastic new people, really properly bright, clever and interesting individuals, who I never would have come into contact with if it weren’t for the campaign.
It would be hard to imagine a more motley crew than us and there have been times when each of us has felt worn down to the point of quitting.
There have been a few falling outs and misunderstandings, the odd tactless remark or poorly timed email (and I’m as guilty as any), but we’ve always sorted it out and through it all we have stuck together.
And I know I’m not speaking only for myself when I say – we will never give up, not until the job is done.
When the Horror House is gone, Ecclesbourne Glen has been protected from further destruction and desecration, and the people who have allowed this situation to develop and endure have been shown up, then we’ll stop.
And boy, will we have a party.
Here’s the link to our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/saveourglen/?ref=ts&fref=ts