Derrick Coffee is an inspiring and committed campaigner who has been campaigning against damaging road schemes in the East Sussex region since the mid 1990s. He now focuses his time on campaigning against the Bexhill-Hastings link road, as a member of the Hastings Alliance.
Why campaign against this road? Derrick explains that this is a damaging road scheme that threatens to destroy a beautiful and tranquil area. "Other transport options could serve the community more effectively and with less damage to the environment, such as good bus links, cycle and walking options etc. We need to explore these alternatives."
Make friends and influence people
The Hastings Alliance has used various methods to get its message out there and to gain public support, including setting up a stall in the town centre to speak to people face to face, putting leaflets in vegetable boxes, holding public meetings and writing to the local media.
As well as gaining local support against the building of the road, the Alliance has also tried to influence and work with the local council. Alliance members have sat on committees, attended environmental network meetings and built relationships with local councillors.
Don’t alienate people
Derrick divulges that the secret is: "Consistency. You must develop a sensible message and then keep banging on about it." But Derrick does share a word of caution, "Campaigning zealously is fine – but being a zealot isn’t."
Derrick elaborates on this further: "It’s important to be a part of the community, to go to the cinema and live music gigs, social events etc, and to talk to people of different persuasions."
Derrick uses a recent example to illustrate this: "When talking to a builder who needs a van to carry bricks and other materials, and who is adamant he won't be using a bus, it's important to explain that, yes, we sympathise and for that reason we’re trying to persuade the council to work to improve walking, cycling and public transport opportunities so roads aren't choked with school run traffic and single-occupant cars. This will mean tradespeople can move themselves and their materials around."
"Reducing traffic gives us all an opportunity to live in a better environment, where the streets where we live become more than conduits where traffic speeds by."
Campaign with humanity
The biggest lesson that Derrick has learnt whilst campaigning? "To campaign with humanity; not to talk to people as if they are simply car drivers, but to talk about wider issues that affect them and all of us. You need to talk to people about how traffic affects them as parents, nature-lovers and pedestrians."
Build relationships with other groups
Derrick believes that a reason the Hastings Alliance has been able to campaign effectively is because it is indeed an alliance – made up of individual supporters, local groups and national organisations. "It is important to build up good relationships with other local groups and national organisations; national organisations are able to help with getting the message out there."