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Our Voices: Selina Nwulu Interviews Pallavi

This article was inspired by an interview with Selina Nwulu, on behalf of Impact for Urban Health, conducted on the 13th Dec 2021 1-2pm. Thanks, Selina!

Selina got in touch through our fantastic Greens of Colour co-Secretary AC; she had asked if anyone could speak to her about Air Pollution as part of a 10 year research project for Impact for Urban health which is in its first year now.

The questions mostly centred around me, my activism journey, how and why I got involved in activism and what, in my opinion, needs to happen now, both in terms of support needed and outcomes desired regarding air pollution.

As we enter the new year in possibly the most important decade for human civilization, its ever more important for green activists to re-double our energy in gaining election seats, and fighting successful campaigns.

As a short intro, my name is Pallavi (rhymes roughly with Valerie). I came to the UK at the age of 25y from Hyderabad, India, in response to the shortage of drs that was being advertised at my medical college; I came to get away from the cultural baggage I’d grown up with, to spread my wings, to travel and to have an adventure. I ended up doing my post-grad training here, meeting my then-boyfriend, now husband during my junior dr years, and am now ‘settled’ here as a naturalised British citizen, working as a GP in semi-rural West Norfolk. I am a mother of two teenagers, keenly interested in leaving behind a live-able planet for them. I have been a member of the Green Party for the past few years, Greens of Colour more recently, and belong to various local environmental groups (Transition Network, Greenpeace, XR, FOE, Nature Volunteer Network etc) due to my interest in issues related to the soil, land, water and air, in trees and in bio-diversity, in all of the critical things that make life possible on earth which are so often, and incorrectly, marginalised as ’environmental issues’.

Selina asked me what campaigns and activism I have been involved in, what I have learnt from participating in them, what worked and what didn’t.

I have been involved in various campaigns and protests over the years starting with signing petitions for Greenpeace as one of the first things I did when I became an adult, to the Transition towns movement to one against a proposed quarry in our neighbourhood which is currently ongoing. But of these, two campaigns stand out for being successful against very high odds. 

The first of these was a campaign against a proposed incinerator in King’s Lynn. I used to work in King’s Lynn in those days and the thought of my patients being subjected to the particulate and other pollution from an incinerator was unbearable. After a long and protracted campaign involving wastage of several million pounds that had already been paid to the incinerator company, a dramatic council election where the ruling Conservatives lost quite a few seats (and their majority), and a judicial challenge, the proposal was finally withdrawn much to the astonishment of all the naysayers who were convinced that we were wasting our time and energy.  See this link for coverage of the final decision.

Another more recent campaign, that was successful was one against the building of 200+ houses on a wetland reed-bed in the heart of King’s Lynn, a market town in West Norfolk.

The housing build decision was passed by the Conservative majority borough council, in spite of a dedicated group of people including nature loving individuals, groups like FOE, XR and Green and independent councillors, fighting it tooth and nail every step of the way.  See this link to a local paper report at the time.

However, after the council had granted permission (to itself) to go ahead with the planned destruction of the reedbed and to build houses and a road in its place, the leader of the council was forced to resign over irregularities in the conduct of his councillors during the planning committee hearing, and the decision to build on the wild natural space was reviewed and overturned by the new leader of the council.

It was a significant victory, snatched from the jaws of defeat, and should give hope to anyone fighting similar battles elsewhere.

In my opinion, the single most important reason that both of these campaigns were successful was because local people came together to fight them. The goal was a well-defined narrow one, which everyone could focus on; and in both instances, there was a clear end-point. All avenues were explored and used to fight them - political, (both party political and more broadly political), emotional, legal, environmental and social; various issues appealing to different groups of people were highlighted, publicised and then publicised again.  There was door knocking, leafletting and public meetings, involvement of local people across non-party lines and a willingness to engage and talk to the powers that be, as well as ordinary people.

My advice to anyone who wishes to be successful in their campaign is firstly to engage the general public. Local people must be spoken to, and encouraged to join in in any way they are able or willing to - whether to sign a petition, vote in a referendum, write to elected leaders, fundraise, or raise awareness or in any other way. 

Secondly, never listen to doomsayers, to predictions of failure at any stage of the campaign, and don’t be discouraged by stories of what happened elsewhere in similar circumstances. If I had a penny for every person who told me we were wasting our time/energy/resources, I’d be very rich indeed!

I am currently involved in a fight to save a woodland in my neighbourhood from being destroyed for a sand quarry. The group fighting it has done a sterling job so far and it does look as if the authorities have been sufficiently frightened, but they have not withdrawn the proposal yet, and we remain vigilant.  

I am also involved in campaigning to getting funding allocated to re-build our local hospital which is 10 years past its sell by date.

If anyone wishes to discuss anything that was touched upon here, feel free to contact me on d_pallavi@hotmail.com

Happy New Year!

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