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Page last updated at 07:19 GMT, Wednesday, 21 July 2010 08:19 UK
Reporting Vestas on Isle of Wight became 'way of life'
By Matt Treacy
BBC Radio Solent reporter during the Vestas dispute

Protestors and police officer at Vestas factory

"With hindsight, I would have taken more food."

That was the considered view of one of the Vestas protestors who had occupied the wind-turbine factory in Newport in July 2009 after the company announced it was to close.

After spending weeks camped outside the factory reporting on the protest, I know how he felt.

For those supporting, and reporting, the 19 days of self-inflicted incarceration, it became a way of life.

Magic roundabout

The first few days after the sit-in began were eventful.

A friendly stand-off quickly turned into a game of cat and mouse as supporters ran at the building throwing food up to those inside.

The mood quickly changed when an intimidating metal fence was hastily erected around the site. The body language from those taking part in the sit-in said it all - glum faces, heads in hands, arms folded, or just looking on silently.

Rally poster - Save Vestas jobs
The sit-in became a focus for climate change protesters and unions

The sit-in had become serious.

The small roundabout on the road outside the factory became known as the 'magic roundabout'.

It developed into a small village community of those supporting the protestors inside. It had accommodation, a kitchen and the traditional brazier used in every industrial dispute since the seventies.

There was also a constant whirlwind of rumours. "I've heard there are riot police round the back and they're going to storm the room," I would be told with a confidential whisper. "They've cut off their food - they're starving them out," would say another.

Sense of farce

However, sometimes the unlikeliest tale was the truth, like dismissal letters sacking the employees taking part in the sit-in being delivered with an apple, a can of fizzy drink and a slice of pizza each.

Sometimes it was the genuine good spirits of the protestors and their supporters - the belief that they were doing something truly good - that contributed to the good natured feeling at the factory gates.

Other times, there was a genuine sense of farce, especially with the unique communication system whereby notes and USB sticks were thrown (with a great deal of accuracy) to and from the building attached to tennis balls.

BBC Radio Solent outside Vestas protest
The 19-day sit-in protest received international media attention

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow made an impassioned speech to supporters one evening and his grand finale was supposed to include a plane towing a banner with inspiration for 'our boys on the balcony'.

An hour-and-a-half after the speech had finished, long after most of his supporters and media had drifted away, a plane did make a fly-past over the factory to the ironic cheers of the dozen-or-so supporters who remained.

"Maybe they got the wrong Newport," joked one worker.

International debate

When Vestas failed to evict protestors from their own building at the first time of asking few could believe their luck. However, after the celebrations the reality of another six days sleeping on the floor of an office, away from friends and family, quickly hit home.

As a news story it gathered interest like a rolling stone. It is not often that Danish film crews visit the Isle of Wight, but as the situation escalated the occupation became global news.

A local dispute, became a national debate on climate change policy , which in turn became an international debate on green issues in a global downturn.

Every aspect of the protest seemed to be dragged out - including the final week.

Although a court order to evict the workers was granted on the Tuesday, the final one did not leave the site until bailiffs arrived on the Friday.

Lost its magic

The final residents and remnants of the 'magic roundabout', kitchen and all, were not evicted and removed until the end of November - a full four months after the protest started.

A fortnight short of the first anniversary of those remarkable events of summer 2009, I went back to the factory - the roundabout no longer had its 'magic'.

There were no tents, no metal fence and no people. It seemed that the only reminder of its previous residents was a climate change sticker on a lamp-post.

It had gone back to being just a roundabout.


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