Neighbours pitched against neighbours in ‘free school’ clash – Angry exchanges as squatters take over Black Horse pub

Thursday, 24th February 2011

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Published: 24 February 2011
by JOSH LOEB

NEIGHBOURS are being pitched against neighbours in a bitter row over a self-styled free school founded by squatters.

The activists, whose Really Free School in Fitzrovia hosts public film screenings, lectures and workshops, were evicted from movie director Guy Ritchie’s £6million house in Fitzroy Square on Friday and moved into the former Black Horse pub in Rathbone Place soon afterwards.

They have a “no media” policy and have declined to speak to the New Journal, but local residents are engaged in a bitter argument about the squat.

Linus Rees, chairman of trustees of the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association (FNA), helped stop bailiffs from gaining access to the Black Horse during a stand-off on Monday. He has written articles defending the occupiers and calling them “inspiring young men and women”.

In a blog post on the Fitzrovia News website, Mr Rees wrote: “What the Really Free School has done is take a house that was not being used and created a space where ordinary people could get together and learn from each other and draw attention to the state of education in Britain.”

But his comments have not been welcomed by members of the Fitzrovia Residents’ Association (FRA) who say he is “using them (the squatters) as pawns in a political game”.

Edward Turner, co-chair of the FRA, said: “Squatters’ rights are there to stop unscrupulous landlords turfing people out on to the streets, not to allow people to go from property to property, causing distress and disruption to the rightful owner. As they (the FNA) are in receipt of public funds, you would have thought they would be standing up for the rights of everyone in the community without favour for any particular group.”

FRA member Aimery de Malet Roquefort said Mr Rees risked “opening the floodgates” to squatters.

But Mr Rees was unapologetic, accusing his critics of “hysteria”.

The four-storey Black Horse was recently bought by London and Central Estates Ltd for £2million and was reportedly being refurbished when the squatters gained access. 

Events staged at the Real Free School have so far included carpentry lessons and a lecture about “feminist porn”.

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