This page outlines the background and history of the FRAW site, and its past work.
(C) Copyright 2021-2022 The Free Range Network; released under the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license (Version 4 International).
Created: 5th February 2021;
Updated: 26th January 2022.
Length: ~1,100 words.
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⚛ The Free Range Activism Website
⚛ The Free Range Network
⚛ Paul Mobbs
The Free Range Activism Website began in its rawest form in the early 1990s, on a CD; containing a set of useful information for activists. This was distributed and copied hand-to-hand off-line, but served a similar role to an on-line web site.
In 1996, it moved on-line for the first time, as part of the GreenNet web server – albeit it was only the ‘best’ parts of that early CD because there was only 50 megabytes of space available.
FRAW became www.fraw.org.uk in September 2001 when the domain name was registered. Since the early 2010s we have grown to around 2 gigabytes of data.
When this resource was first set-up, from that very first off-line CD, its purpose was simple: To support the work of the members of the Free Range Network as they campaigned on different local issues. We already shared our information resources between each other electronically, via email. In moving to do that via the web anyone could access and share those resources, give us feedback, and learn more of our work.
At that time much of the information we shared was official government publications, many of which cost tens of pounds each to buy, which we had scanned and converted to electronic formats. Around the end of the 1990s we were “giving away” the equivalent of £50,000 per month of this information from the FRAW site.
By the early 2000s though, when the government started doing that themselves, we changed too. Freed of the need to do what the government had previously failed to do, we focused on the next ‘problem’. Rather like government publishing, around this time academic publish had become a highly concentrated corporate fiefdom charging tens or even hundreds of pounds for just a few pages of text.
For the next decade we shared technical and scientific information – and the articles, reports, info-graphics which we produced ourselves to interpret that for a public audience. While the number of sites sharing scientific research has grown, this role still forms a large part of what the site does, and the server space that is devoted to it.
Today, well into its third decade of operation, we find that the wheel has turned full circle. Access to information is no longer the issue, since public administration and the media rarely look at the detail of the mass of information that is available all around us today. The issue today is helping people adapt to the reality of ecological limits, because both politics and the media cannot address the reality of that issue – not even climate change, which is currently the only facet of this issue which they talk about.
FRAW is primarily the on-line home of the Free Range Activism Network – a ‘dysorganisation’ of campaigners, activists and experts with an interest in developing technical resources for community groups and individuals interested in ‘changing the world’.
Over recent years our collective work has changed its focus. It’s changed because, as political and economic changes make the dialogue over campaign issues seemingly more ‘extreme’, the nature of how local politics and campaigns function is changing too.
For example, the way fracking or HS2 has been pushed through by the government against public opinion, and the immense backlash from the public that process has created (certainly it's been the greatest public campaign since the government's roads programme of the 1980s/1990s), has fundamentally changed nature of local campaigns and their need for information and expertise.
As a result of these changes our purpose has changing too. We’ve completely rebuilt the site, removing lots of the old information, uploading new work with a specific direction – encouraging people to solve today’s economic and social issues not through technology or new development, but by disengaging and disconnecting from the economic and technological mainstream. Likewise, as people find problems in communicating as social media filters and censors their information, we’re increasingly hosting files or videos as a one off for different groups – to overcome that top-down censorship of local activism.
The purpose of this reorientation is to help people ‘disconnect’ from the cults of economic growth and technological change. This more than anything is the speediest way for individuals to reduce their ecological footprints, and address issues such as automation, resource depletion, and the ongoing collapse of neoliberal economics.
As part of this process we’ll be working together to produce new resources over the next few years. The written versions will be available on-line, but our aim – as in the late 1990s and early 2000s – will be to take these issues ‘on the road’ to work with communities directly. If you're interest in taking part, please get in touch.
Paul Mobbs has been working with community groups for almost forty years. Since 1992, as a freelance researcher, writer and environmental consultant specialising in the needs of community-based campaigns, NGOs and small companies, he has generated a large quantity of materials for local campaigns – much of which he gives away for free via the FRAW web site.
His work spans a many areas: from planning, pollution and environmental regulation; the work of local and national government; historical archive research; and tying it all together, the use of computers and information and communications technology to empower community campaigns and ‘data activism’. His web site provides his written work, as well as presentations, handouts, and some videos of his activities.
The FRAW site also hosts his various blogs, in addition to his work website. As ‘principal geek’ in the Network, he has organised the FRAW website since its early beginnings on that hand-to-hand CD in the early 1990s.
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