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Don’t frack with us: meet the victorious activist ‘Nanas’ of Lancashire

After almost 1,000 days camping out in a field near Blackpool and obstructing fracking operations, the ‘Nanas’ have seen off energy company Cuadrilla. James Cartwright meets the fearless female activists behind the yellow pinnies

‘We’re cute and we’re easily damaged. If the cops manhandle us, they’re going to look awful for it’: some of the activists at their Preston New Road camp.

‘We’re cute and we’re easily damaged. If the cops manhandle us, they’re going to look awful for it’: some of the activists at their Preston New Road camp.
Photograph: Jasper Clarke/The Observer

While the world applauds the child protesters taking to the streets, fewer eyes are on their mums and grandmothers, whose activism is altogether quieter. In August 2014, gangs of older women in yellow tabards and headscarves started to become a common sight on Preston New Road in Lancashire. They call themselves the “Nanas”, though not all are grandmas. They took the name as a nod to trust, family and tea, leaning into stereotypes of northern matriarchy. Their first project was to capture a field under planning application by Cuadrilla, a UK fossil fuels company seeking exploratory drilling rights for shale gas. They hopped over the fence, set up tents and claimed squatters’ rights, staying for three weeks. By the time they left, the Nanas had earned the support of 14,000 local residents and appointments at Manchester’s High Court, and their action, along with that of other campaigners, led to Lancashire County Council rejecting Cuadrilla’s fracking application, a decision later overturned by the then secretary of state, Sajid Javid.

In the years since, the Nanas have mounted an often good-humoured war of attrition against Cuadrilla, whose drilling has caused tremors in the area. At the Bell Mouth, the entrance to the Preston New Road site, they sing, dance, knit, pray, read poems and monologues, and obstruct fracking activity wherever possible. They even have their own stage show and samba band. And every Wednesday, dressed in white, they stage a call for calm at a site where tensions between protesters and police often erupt into violence.

In November 2018, Cuadrilla stopped drilling after multiple earth tremors, two of which breached the government’s traffic light system that requires fracking to be paused in the event of seismic activity that exceeds a magnitude of 0.5. Fracking resumed on 15 August 2019, but activity was suspended 11 days later, after the UK’s largest fracking-induced seismic event.

Two weeks ago, just a couple of days before the Nanas celebrated 1,000 days of activism at Preston New Road, Cuadrilla announced that it would engage in no further fracking activity on the site before its licence expires at the end of November. The Nanas are now free to enjoy a frack-free Christmas, though they remain on site to make sure.

‘If you don’t stand up and do something, then who else will?’: Anjie Mosher, 49, Nana Inappropriate

Anjie Mosher

I’ve been an armchair activist for years. I’m a lesbian, and in the early 80s I’d done a bit of Section 28 business and got chased down my own street. But as the years went on I stopped being as active. I’d see things and think, “Huh, isn’t that dreadful?” and hope someone else would do something about it.

The earthquakes were the first time I heard about the Preston New Road site, and I lost a lot of sleep. I’d just adopted two small boys and this was happening on my doorstep. Had I not become a mother I probably wouldn’t have looked into it any further. But I wanted to know exactly what was going on. It’s about my kids and their future. I’ve got to protect them.

At first I researched both sides, the pros and cons, because you do tend to think that people who are protesting something might be a little extreme, a little bit nuts. And some are. But that’s life. You look at any group of people and there are always a couple of nutters. That’s how the idea of the Nanas came about. A few of us wanted to engage the public without being threatening or aggressive. There’s nothing more gentle and unthreatening than your nana, and if your nana tells you something you listen, because nanas know best. We took the old matriarchal image of Hilda Ogden, put on our yellow tabards and headscarves, armed ourselves with feather dusters and little teapots and went to capture that field at daft o’clock in the morning.

There are some moments in your life that stand out, and that’s up there with one of the best of mine. Watching the sun rise after we’d done, I felt as though I was on the right side of history. I no longer cared if the police came and picked me up because I knew I was doing the right thing.

‘There’s a ball of rage inside me’: Tina Rothery, 57, Nana Queenie

Tina and Julie

I’ve lived in all sorts of countries and at all sorts of income levels. I worked as a journalist in Hong Kong and managed pubs in London. I’ve lived the good life with a maid and membership of the yacht club, and I’ve lived the harder life as a single parent rummaging for change down the back of a sofa. I’d always assumed I was fairly broad-minded, and then I came to activism and realised I wasn’t at all. Finding an army of women of a certain age was the biggest surprise – the realisation that there was this untapped resource. We’re cute, we’re a bit broken, we’re easily damaged – if the cops manhandle us, they’re going to look awful for it.

In the early days we made such a difference so quickly. Within months the campaign here grew and we’d built towers at the site and were sleeping in the entrance way, blocking lorries and getting moved at least 10 times a day by the police. That was great, we knew we were having an impact.

We’ve been here for more than 960 days now, and everything we’ve done has included humour, but there’s a ball of rage inside me. Every Wednesday, when we do the call for calm, I generally put down the anger and think of it as a fresh start. We started Nana Samba as a kind of anger management for the Nanas. I took a drum and two sticks and I beat the hell out of it and I thought, “I like this!” Then I realised that when I’m drumming I’m harder to arrest. If I’m walking in front of a truck with a drum, you can’t really get a grip on me. I’m getting quite good with the rhythms, too.

We get asked what we’d do if it was all over – wouldn’t we miss the comradeship? I don’t have to worry now that we’ve got a samba band. We’re booked through to 2020. We had a gig last week, we’ve got a gig next month. We’ll just pursue our art and keep campaigning to protect our young.

‘I can’t have the future I imagined’: Kai Sinclair, 21, Nana Jigglypuff


My mum’s quite ill and needs help walking. She wanted to come down here to look around and asked me to come with her. At the end of the day she went home and I didn’t. I moved into camp a week later. I’ve been here 14 months now.

I’m a photographer, so when I first came down I thought it would be a good project, but very quickly I started leaving my camera at home and taking part in the protest myself. Since then I’ve explored a lot of different areas of activism. I went straight from being an observer to jumping in at the deep end. It’s only recently that I’ve started to explore the gentler side of protest, and that’s why I joined the Nanas.

I’ve got two baby sisters and I want to protect the world for them. But I’ve also just worked my arse off for three years finishing my degree. I’d go to college and then come straight here to do a night shift then go back to college the next day. In 12 years, none of that hard work will matter if the world doesn’t exist. I can’t have the future I imagined for myself if all this continues – I can’t think about having a family. There’s no way I’d want to bring more humans into a world that’s about to end.

I’ve had talks with some of the security guards at the site and a few of them are against fracking themselves, but they need to feed their families. They don’t want to be there, but they have to do it. We’ve created a system where people can’t risk talking about injustice because they might restrict their freedoms. It’s a real risk.

Sometimes it seems like it’s you against the world, but the past few months have felt a lot more hopeful. The youth strikes have been amazing. Everyone’s finding their place with different protests.

‘I used to be in the police’: Tracey Booker, 58, Nana Dancing Queen

Nana’s fracking - Tracey, Becky, Tina front and centre, Kai, Tina’s sister Julie and Jo

I found out about fracking in the summer of 2017. I retired from the civil service in January 2018, so I’ve been able to spend a lot of time up here. I was a senior executive officer investigating suicides in prisons. Before that I was a probation officer, and before that I was a police officer. When I was in that job I had to work at the miners’ strikes, so I understand that the police here can’t choose the beat they’re on.

But I’ve watched the way they behave and I hate it. I’ve been subject to assault by the police myself. It astounds me that just because I’m standing at the gate protesting a police officer feels they have the right to punch me in the breast. I would never have got away with anything like it while I was in the job.

At first I wasn’t sure if I should tell people that I used to be police, but everyone knows now and it has its benefits to some degree. I’m good at helping people out if they get arrested, putting their cases together and getting Freedom of Information Act requests done. I feel like I’m a useful person to have around.

Having a Nana name makes you part of the community. Everyone has to agree to their own and it says something particular about you. I got mine when Vivienne Westwood came to visit. She came up specifically to dance to Abba’s Dancing Queen in the Bell Mouth. When she arrived there wasn’t much room for her to dance and she looked a bit lost, so I just put my arm around her and she gave me a kiss.

Since I’ve become an activist I’ve done things that I’d never have dreamed of doing before. I’ve joined the samba band, performed in a play and been to protest rallies in London and at the Conservative conference. Activism has given me a different outlook on life, and made me feel much more whole in myself.

‘We aren’t typical activists’: Jo Catlow-Morris, 57, Nana Dahling


To be honest, it wasn’t the fracking that initially drew me to this place, it was the community – their honesty and their truthfulness and their resolve. I’ve sympathised with the cause for a long time, and because I’m in the performing arts people would always ask me to come down and choreograph a performance or a song at the gates. It was only when I gave up my job as a programme leader at a local uni that I was able to get more involved.

I started to come to the call for calm on Wednesdays and spoke a lot to Becky, Tina’s niece. She was telling me about taking the field in 2014 and I just said, “Stop, can I record you?” We spoke for about 45 minutes, and when I listened back to it I knew I had to do something with it.

Now I’ve done 11 interviews and created a piece of theatre called Nanas with Banners. It’s a mix of spoken word, music and dancing. Our next gig is in Sheffield later this month.

The main motivation is to communicate that we aren’t typical activists, we’re just mothers and sisters and hairdressers and nurses and whatever else. It’s about normalising us and showing our extraordinary nature. When I first did the readings all the women were in floods of tears.

I have a very conservative friend who has no sympathy with what’s going on here, but he came to see the play and afterwards said: “You’ve almost turned me. One day I’ll come down there with you and meet the Nanas.” He hasn’t come yet, but if I’ve done nothing else with these performances then I have at least changed one person’s perspective.


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