by Rowan Gavin

So it’s that time of year again. It gets real cold out, warm alcohol is consumed in considerable quantities, and people give each other gifts. At UEA, the People and Planet Society  decided that the University management deserved a very special kind of christmas present. As you may have heard, People and Planet have been running a branch of the Fossil Free campaign at UEA. Unfortunately, the University has not responded to our concerns in any meaningful way, so we decided that we should send a more direct message. Judging by their investment choices, it seems that UEA are rather fond of Fossil Fuels – so what better present than their very own oil rig?

Ably assisted by Andy from People and Planet HQ, a few members of the society began construction last Friday morning. When I arrived to join in after my morning lecture, the rig was only half way to completion, but I was already really impressed by the scale of the thing. A huge central console, branded with the Fossil Free logo, dominated the Hive in union house. It was taller than me, and I’m pretty tall. I got stuck straight in, joining the others in painting, folding, taping and assembling. It was great fun, and felt like a really productive way to spend an afternoon.

At one point we were approached by a group of people with film equipment who were making a video about student societies. A couple of them helped us paint for a bit while they got some footage. As they were leaving I asked what exactly the video would be used for. ‘Official university publicity material’, came the reply, and I had to try very hard to contain my laughter until they were out of earshot. Here’s hoping the footage gets into the final product – it would be brilliant if some of the university’s promotional material contained images of students actively protesting against their actions.

When the rig was completed, around 5pm, we all stood back and gazed in awe at our creation.


After a swift drink in the union pub while the paint dried, we disassembled it and took the pieces up to the student officer centre, where they were to be stored over the weekend. We made plans to hand in the university’s present on Monday, then said our goodbyes. When I got home that evening, suitably worn out, I felt like I’d spent the day doing exactly the kind of thing students should be doing.

Monday rolled around, and we reassembled in the Hive, with a few more pairs of hands. After a quick briefing, we suited up in Fossil Free Orange, grabbed the various parts of the rig, and marched over to the Registry. Reconstruction was completed quickly and without hitch. Photos were taken, and then Emma and myself entered the Registry and asked to see the Vice Chancellor. It turned out he was in a meeting (or he was hiding and pretending to be), but Pro Vice Chancellor Neil Ward came down instead. We presented him with our gift, an accompanying letter outlining our demands, and a selection of messages from students supporting the campaign.

The rig stood outside the registry for two more hours before we disassembled and stowed it away for future use. All in all this was a really good stunt – impressive, photogenic, creative, focussed and tons of fun. Here’s hoping it’ll also make the difference.

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