Squatters: We’ve rescued Camden Town building plagued with rats

Thursday, 3rd June 2010

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Published: 03 June 2010
by JOSIE HINTON

SQUATTERS occupying the former Labour Party headquarters in Camden Town say they have cleaned up a “neglected” building which has lain empty for three years.

The group said that when they moved into the building on the corner of Bayham Street and Camden Road last month, a drainage problem had left the basement swamped with sewage, causing a foul stench noticed by passers-by, and plagued by rats.

The two-floor, council-owned building has been officially vacant since the party moved out in 2007, leading to questions about why it had been left empty for so long in the midst of a housing crisis. 

A Camden Council spokeswoman said it was reviewing options for the building’s future while seeking a second eviction order, after an earlier group of squatters was forced out in March.

The new occupants maintain they have transformed the building from a potential health hazard back into a home – and have plans to turn it into a “social centre” for community use.

“When we came here there was a drainage problem and the whole place was covered in sewage,” one occupant said. “We called the council but they didn’t turn up for two weeks so we started cleaning the place ourselves.

“We work with the neighbours – they didn’t like the state the building was in and they watched us clean it up. If they need something we help them out and they have been happy to help us too. It’s a good relationship.”

Members of the group, made up of artists and musicians, said previous squatters had turned the basement into a free ­cinema, even offering tea and coffee to film buffs. Others criticised the council for leaving the building to deteriorate into such a bad state.

One occupant said: “Every borough has at least 2 per cent of homes empty. If you ask people why they squat they would give you different answers, but I do it to raise awareness. Councils and housing associations are not doing a good enough job.”

Bayham Street resident Josie Kelly confirmed the building had been cleaned up in recent weeks, but added: “We are always told there is a housing shortage here. It’s a big building which could be used to make lovely flats.”

Labour housing spokes­man Councillor Julian Fulbrook said it was a “great shame” the building had not been put to better use, adding that he would look into the situation immediately.

 “It was a lovely office and I’m surprised it has been empty for so long,” he said. “There used to be lots of people after that building. It would be great to bring it back into housing use.”

A council spokeswoman said the property had been left unoccupied while Camden put in a bid for government funding to transform it for community use. The bid was turned down in 2008 and the building considered for use by Voluntary Action Camden and the Primary Care Trust but it did not meet standards set by the Disability Discrimination Act.

The spokeswoman added: “The property had been occupied by squatters in September 2009, who were evicted after court proceedings in March. Unfortunately, squatters re-entered, and the council is seeking a further possession order via the courts.

“The council is review­ing options for the future of the building, with a view to making recommendations to elected members.”

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