UPDATED EVERY THURSDAY
Thursday 26th August 2004
All content © New Journal Enterprises, 2004.
 
 
 
 
 
FEATURES   BY SARA PARSONS

We’ll be back: Cameron, Shamrock, Max, Sara and Alex outside the building they gave back to the community
Why it’s important to squat our empties
Sara Parsons, one of the squatters evicted from their Occupied Social Centre in Tufnell Park yesterday (Wednesday), explains the importance of public space

The Occupied Social Centre project began on the 6th January of this year. Our aim was to bring a political, social and community space to an area where many of us live and where there are no similar spaces.
During a period of increasing privatization, gentrification and desire for an easy profit, where community resources like Carol Street advice centre and Lyndhurst Hall are being closed down and sold off by the council, and the closure of youth clubs coupled with the new Anti-social behaviour curfews mean kids have nothing to do and nowhere to go, there is an urgent need to reclaim our spaces from greedy property developers and run them ourselves to meet our real needs.
In a place like Camden where the spiraling price of property means that no ordinary group of people can afford to rent or buy this space, and where many buildings lay empty, waiting to realize their market value, squatting seems the obvious practical and political answer – we decided to take back buildings ourselves, rather than fight a losing battle lobbying a council that appears to care less and less about the impact its policies have on people’s lives.
Our first building at 93 Fortess Road lasted for about six weeks before eviction, but despite the short amount of time we were there, we had a good response from many of our neighbours, who wanted to see this former community centre put back to good use, rather than bulldozed and turned into unaffordable flats. On February 28 we occupied Grand Banks at 156-158 Fortess Road, another building which had lain empty and unused for over two years. We cleaned and decorated, and within a week had opened our second Occupied Social Centre.
During the six months we have been there, we have held countless events and skills-sharing workshops, including screen-printing, radio training, Anti-Copyright‚ cinema, free healthy lunch for school students, children’s days, English lessons, music nights, and a fair trade café supporting Zapatista communities in Mexico. However the list of events alone cannot adequately convey the vibrancy of the place and the impact it has had on the area.
We sought from the beginning to run the social centre in a self-managed way – which means that it was run non-hierarchically (everyone has an equal say), staffed by anyone who wanted to be involved, and all decisions regarding the running of the building were made by consensus at open weekly meetings. We regarded the social centre as way to create awareness of the idea of self-management, and hoped it would serve as an inspiration to people who wished to take control of their own lives and ultimately their own communities.
There has been an enormous amount of feedback from people in the area whose lives have been positively affected by this initiative, and most of all from local school students who used the Social Centre daily.
Many of them became involved in the running of the place, and their support was essential during the first eviction attempt on the building on May 17, when they left school during their lunch hour to successfully help resist the bailiffs. We did not build barricades, but decided the best resistance to eviction would be to continue filling the place with people and events, which we have done successfully for the last three months.
But squatted spaces only last for so long. We knew this when we started, and inevitably the company that owns the lease – Birmingham Midshires (a building society that has £11 billion in assets and a subsidiary of Halifax, Royal Bank of Scotland) wanted the building back (despite the fact that there is only five years left on the lease and it will probably sit empty for much of that time). The eviction yesterday (Wednesday) morning took us by surprise, because the police had promised to give us 10 days notice, and no such warning was given. But the police showed their true colours when they admitted their concern was not any impact their actions might have on the community, but to enforce the rights of the property owner.
We will be back though! We fully intend to occupy another building in the area and to continue with the social centre and the projects that went on there. For further updates see our website at www.wombles.org.uk Occupied Social Centre Collective.