What is a Tar-Free Town?

What is the Tar-Free Towns initiative?

The Tar-Free Towns idea came from a desire to connect people in the UK with communities fighting tar sands in Canada, by supporting and encouraging hubs of tar sands activism to flourish in the UK.

Under a similar model in the US, individual municipalities have been successful in blocking tar sands oil from their town completely. Although tar sands oil hasn’t yet arrived in the UK in significant quantities, its large scale import is potentially very close, and the battle to shut tar sands out of the UK marker is taking place right now. Furthermore, there is no shortage of UK companies and banks that are heavily involved in the industry. Setting up a network of groups across the UK who are vocally rejecting tar sands oil, before it starts flooding our shores, will raise public awareness about this little known atrocity, hold UK companies to account, and show the government that there is an army of campaigners ready to ward off the tar monster in all its forms. This project links closely with People & Planet’s Tar Sands-Free Universities campaign, which is doing a similar thing with student groups.

What does it mean to be a Tar-Free Town?

A Tar-Free Town is a community that is working towards a healthy future for the planet and its people. Rather than hurtling down the destructive path that energy corporations have chosen for us, a Tar-Free community envisions that our energy should not come from sources that are destroying indigenous communities and threatening the planet with catastrophic climate change, and sets out to actively make the transition away from dirty oil.

How do we become a Tar-Free Town?

Because all groups have different skills, priorities and opportunities, there is no blueprint for being a Tar-Free Town. Instead the group is free to choose its activities, with the list below serving as a starting point. Feel free to go beyond it!

  1. Raise awareness locally: Set up stalls outside banks and petrol stations, hand out leaflets and collect email addresses for our regular newsletter list. Organise film nights, speaker events, workshops.**
  2. Lobby your local MP or MEP: write letters, organise petitions and meetings and have a presence at their surgery. This is particularly useful if your local MP is someone relevant to the tar sands battle, like Norman Baker, Transport Minister, who is blocking important EU legislation against tar sands. If it turns out they’re already sympathetic, even better!
  3. Build the movement: make contacts with other local groups (including university groups, Transition Network, local Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth groups, or Green Party groups) and make the Tar-Free community extend beyond your own group.
  4. Organise local actions against targets like RBS branches, BP/Shell/Total petrol stations etc. This is particularly good if you live near something unique, like the headquarters of one of these companies, or a big piece of infrastructure that might soon be receiving tar sands oil. Court the local media so that this gets good coverage in your area. We’re happy to help with choosing targets and getting national media.
  5. De-tar the workplace. Encourage your own workplace, as well as local businesses, charities and green groups, to bank with the Co op, Triodos or a local credit union, rather than RBS, Natwest, HSBC, Barclays, etc, and not to hold shares (or invest in pension schemes with shares) in tar sands companies.
  6. Work with the city or county council to introduce some legislation that would literally ‘ban’ tar sands oil from ever being allowed in your community – or at least get a debate going about what that would mean. Try contacting the Transition Network or local Green Party councillors to start.
  7. Be on our national ‘tar sands action list’ which would involve travelling to London or elsewhere to take part in bigger actions, like at the BP AGM or the upcoming ‘Oilympics’.
  8. Be part of an ’emergency action team’. Often we have to react to unforeseen situations, like when a Canadian official comes to London and we drop everything else to go and protest, or a spill happens on First Nations land, and we need to flood the local authorities with calls to make them clean it up. When this happens we need people who can be responsive and jump on board with whatever action is happening – this may involve e-mails, phone calls, local or national action.
  9. Build solidarity links with communities affected by the tar sands. Eventually this could lead to a ‘twinning’ campaign, where a UK Tar-Free Town would be paired with a community in Alberta. At its initial stage though, it might involve hosting an event for First Nations speakers when they come to the UK or starting to communicate directly with community members to plan campaigns. This idea is still quite speculative, and would involve working closely with us as we explore its potential!



  • **We will be able to provide resources like leaflets, stickers, posters, etc. We can also provide speakers if you want to organise speaking events, workshops, Q&A sessions or film screenings.
  • We will make sure to give you regular updates about what is going on nationally and internationally in the campaign so you can stay up to speed and know that your work is effective and strategic.
  • We should also be able to provide a reasonable amount of guidance if you need it, or leave you more to your own devices if you prefer. When you’re first getting started we’d be happy to check that any media work you do is in line with the overall aims of the campaign.
  • Be ambitious, but don’t overcommit. Obviously it is up to you to determine how often you meet, how big your group is, and how much you do. You can always start small and work your way up to bigger actions/commitments.
  • If you are a university group, you may be more interested in People & Planet’s Tar Sands Free Universities campaign, but of course, you’re more than welcome to become a Tar-Free Town too.

How can you become a Tar-Free Town today?

Easy! Email us to show your interest. If possible tell us a bit about your group and why you want to get involved so we know how best to help you.

Someone from the UK Tar Sands Network will then come and speak to your group about tar sands and how you can get involved in the Tar-Free Towns campaign. If you and your group then agree to take part, we will make you a town sign saying “Tar-Free Wherever”. Ideally, you would have an official ‘launch ceremony’, take some pictures and write a short blog post that we can add to our website. Having declared yourself Tar-Free, you would then start fighting the tar monster.

Read about Tar-Free Transition Heathrow, our first Tar-Free Town.