Kicking into High Gear: A Battlebus Retrospective

What a month March was. As the whole of the UK was gearing up to leave the EU on the 29th (doesn’t that seem like a lifetime ago?), we at OFOC hit the road in our Battlebus.

We wanted to reach every corner of the country, to meet as many young people as possible and hear their thoughts, hopes, and fears about Brexit. We wanted to travel as widely as we could, to reach areas of the country that have been largely left out of the political debate in Westminster. We wanted young people to know we were listening, and could help them speak loudly to MPs in Parliament.

Obviously, we’ve been a little busy.

The month kicked off with a tour of the South West. We began by stopping at Gloucester College on our way to Bath, where we stayed the night. The city is stunning, and in the evening we took the campaign to a cozy pub, where we narrowly lost the nightly quiz but gained some lovely friends (yes, they were dogs). The next morning we took the bus to the Bath University campus - and what a beautiful campus it is! It was warm and sunny, the students were engaged and friendly, and by the time we left for Bristol there was a burgeoning local OFOC group up and running.

The good weather sadly couldn’t last. Almost as soon as we had parked the bus in Bristol, the heavens opened. Luckily our spirits weren’t dampened, nor were the numbers of students who flocked to our bus like politically-aware moths to a non-lethal flame. Our Brexitometer was full by the time we left, and our Bristol group had swelled in size, with many of the young people we talked to keen on coming to the march on the 23rd. Exeter was a delight. After a warm welcome by Exeter Students for Europe, we were given a tour of the best places to pitch up, and had a hugely successful day, both on the university campus and in the city centre.

For the next tour we aimed for the South East. Sussex University was first on our list, where we gained so many signatures on the sides of the bus that it started to get difficult to find space for more! After a brief word with the manager of the student bar, we were allowed to ring the bell and make an announcement to the packed room about the bus outside. This led to a mass exodus as people dutifully stood up in unison to sign the bus - and sign up to OFOC!

The next day we attended the YouthStrike4Climate in Canterbury. Seeing so many passionate young people ready to stand up for their futures was a truly moving sight, and hearing so many of them speak with eloquent passion made us more hopeful than ever for the future. We then drove the bus to the University of Kent, where we were received with enthusiasm by the Student Union. The conversations we had with students were fascinating, and by the time we left, one of the coaches bound for the march the next weekend was already fully booked.

Seeing so many passionate young people ready to stand up for their futures was a truly moving sight.

The week of the march itself was too busy to go out on tour again, and so it was in the final week of March that we made our way to the North East. We first stopped in Middlesborough, Teesside University (receiving only a few shouts of abuse as we drove through the town - brexiteers have such a great reputation for good manners). Many of the young people we spoke to had been at the march on Saturday, and were keen to get more involved with the campaign. By this point, signatures were getting smaller and smaller on the side of the Battlebus - by rough estimate we reckoned there were at least 6000!

That evening we headed up to Newcastle. It was the night of the indicative votes, and we were overwhelmed by the news that a Confirmatory Public Vote was the most popular option in Parliament. The next morning (only slightly worse for wear) we headed towards Newcastle University.

As always, the Battlebus was a huge draw - “I’m so glad to see a bus with some truth on it for a change”, said one particularly enthused student-turned-activist. In the evening we headed to Gateshead and Jarrow, where we were pleasantly surprised by the results of our Brexitometer - people overwhelmingly didn’t want Brexit to result in No Deal or May’s Deal, opting instead to put it back to the people in the form of a People’s Vote. Clearly, the mood in Parliament was beginning to represent the will of the people.

The next day was the 29th of March. By that point it was clear we weren’t leaving the European Union any time soon, and so it was with a certain amount of elation that we descended upon Northumbria University. Lord Andrew Adonis joined us to give a talk about Brexit and the need for a referendum with an option to remain. A far cry from the apathy that we are frequently invited to associate with young people, the audience was engaged and responsive, asking intelligent and probing questions of Lord Adonis who answered them with aplomb. A show of hands at the end of the event showed a landslide victory in favour of a People’s Vote, and we packed up and hit the road again.

Stopping briefly at the Angel of the North (some sights just demand to be seen), we made our way to Sunderland. A significant place to be at an equally significant date, we were well aware of how important this city was to our campaign. What we found was that young people in Sunderland are just as concerned for their futures as young people from the rest of the country - of course they were; we all want the same things. Prosperity, freedom to travel, security in the close relationships with our neighbours: these are issues that younger generations of this country find especially important. Their perspectives were intriguing - many don’t feel represented by the reputation Sunderland has garnered as a Leave stronghold, and leapt at the chance to learn more about our campaign.

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