Brighton’s Squatted Past 3 – the 1990s

The following post is part of a series from SNOB (AHA) looking at the history and importance of squatting in Brighton (and Hove actually… which is notably the constituency of a certain modern-day villain seeking to steal from the poor and give to the rich).

1990s

Throughout the 1990s, there were many squatted projects. This phenomenon can be seen against the backdrop of the increasing gentrification of Brighton. As many yuppies moved in who commuted to London for work, the centre became standardised, lots of independent shops and traders got priced out and the mood switched. Residential squatting was forced out of the centre.

That bastion of truth the Argus recorded in 2007 that “The former Astoria Bingo Hall in Gloucester Place, the old court house and register office in Princes Street and the Madeira Café in Kemp Town were all wrecked as squatters descended on the city in the late Nineties”.

From 1993-5 some abandoned beach chalets were squatted near the West Pier. You can get a picture of just how much Brighton has changed when you go down the seafront and stop to observe that now these chalets are all now occupied by nightclubs, artists shops and tourist emporia.

Amusingly, when the squatters were evicted in 1996, half of them moved on to the abandoned West Pier, a wreck which could only be reached over water. You can find two local news clips on youtube (below) called ‘West Pier Squatters’ (with Bassam popping up but scrupulously ignoring his squatter past).

In 1994, the group Justice? was formed out of opposition to the Criminal Justice Bill, which amongst other things criminalised raves. The old court house was squatted. And Schnews was born.

In 1996, Justice? set up a Squatters Estate Agency to publicise the large amount of empty properties remaining in Brighton. You can also find a local news report about that on youtube…

Other groups active in Brighton were SPOR and Anarchist Teapot. Both deserve a quick mention.

tpot

From 1996-9 the Anarchist Teapot collective squatted a variety of shops and organised vegan cafes in Brighton and Worthing in something like eight locations. There was always free tea apparently. At one stage a Burger King was squatted on the London Road. The collective then shifted towards being a mobile soup kitchen, catering at activist events.

macdons

From 2000, a building on London Road was purchased which would later become the Cowley Club, a self-organised social centre. Around this time there was a huge debate over whether legal spaces where a good alternative to squatted projects. In this particular case, it seems the move to a space which plays the legal game yet remains oppositional was extremely wise since squatted social centres tend to last months at most in Brighton and the Cowley has been open now for eight years.

cowleyclub

SPOR were a loose grouping of artists and musicians who put on a couple of high profile art events. In 1999, they opened up some buildings at York Place, near to St Peters church, for a month long art exhibition which culminated in a party. In Jan/Feb 2001, SPOR took the disused Co-operative Bank, on Ship Street. When the time came to evict, confused bailiffs met sock puppets talking to them through the letterbox and then broke in to find an empty building. The squatters had barricaded the building and then escaped from the roof.