SQUASH NewsRound – September to December 2015

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The NewsRound is be a monthly post, keeping tabs on articles being posted in MainStream Media (MSM) sources, as well as independent channels (eg IMC, SchNEWS) about squatting, the new law (s.144) and possible new legislation (eg commercial). If you spot any articles of interest, please let us know by emailing: info@squashcampaign.org. Disclaimer: All views expressed in this blog are that of the compiler and not necessarily that of SQUASH.

Stories in SQUASH NewsRound: September – December 2015:

  • New Squat Resources
  • Squats:
    • Giggs-Neville Hotel in Manchester
    • Kid’s Company Peckham
    • Camden Mothership, West Hamsptead
    • Scumoween Rave, Lambeth Bridge
  • Events Gone By
  • Squatting-related Articles
  • Squatting Discussions in Parliament

Other NewsRound Reports for the Year 2015:

SQUASH’s reportHomes Not Jails released in April 2015, on the Website and as a PDF

New Squat Resources

sha

The Squatters and Homeless Autonomy (SHA) communiqué “Against Apolitical Squatting” is an excellent critique about the state of squatting three years on from s144 LASPOA. A powerful manifesto about what squatting is, it’s very real challenges, and the subtle lines of argument which are undermining its fundamental effectiveness, eg Leftist grandstanding, empty slogans, etc. If you want a deep insight into squatting, drawing on the global experience, this is it.

“Against Apolitical Squatting, communique by Squatters and Homeless Autonomy” [squat!net, 14 November 2015]

To find out more about what SHA is up to, check their facebook and twitter: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/squatterhomelessautonomy Twitter: @shacollective

Dissident Island Radio 02 Oct 2015 Episode 162,  contains the following interviews: Legal advice for squatters and occupiers from the LDMG and GBC (00:05:25), and a reading of the SHA Collective’s latest communique – Against Apolitical Squatting (00:26:34)

The North East London Squatters Network (NELSN for short) is an excellent London-based support network, informing people about evictions, organising get-togethers, and so on. In September, they put out this flyer, free to distribute. Get in touch.

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Squatting research has been collected on the ETC Dee site, and includes books, papers, presentations, articles, and posters, examining the nature of squatting from across Europe. This is a great resource for those looking into squatting in-depth. E.T.C. Deehttps://ucm.academia.edu/ETCDee

The following interactive maps have been constructed of the squats (current and past) in several continental cities, from Madrid to Berlin. Squat Maps of Europe from Squatting Europe Kollective (sqek) – http://maps.squat.net/en/cities

Squats in the Media

Gary Neville & Ryan Gigs’ Hotel, Manchester

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One of the biggest media stories to break in the last few months has been squatted Manchester hotel owned by footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville. The hotel was squatted mid-October by a group of squatters and homeless people. They secured the hotel and started living there. Before long, the owners got in touch to find out what was happening and the squatters negotiated a deal with them to stay in the building. However the owners in this case were mega-celebrities, and for one reason or another (their own kindness, a media stunt) they offered to let the squatters stay for the winter (or at least until February, which is still during the hypothermic-death months).

The story exploded after the Manchester Evening News [18 October 2015] broke it, and the news mass-syndicated it on the 19th October (same story rehashed by numerous media outlets, aka lazy journalism) across so many different platforms, like Sports (ESPN), Lifestyle & Celebrity (Hello Magazine), Industry (Real Business), Charity (the Big Issue) and all the  national liberal formats, the Guardian, BBC, Guardian 2, and Independent . While the media fawned at the supreme charity of the two celebrity footballers, the positive spin-off was to highlight that landlords should and could negotiate with squatters. However, like all media hype, the story was soon cannibalised.

mad

The squat changed from an autonomous homeless project into something more akin a property-guardianship, carefully controlled and “responsible”. The hotel turned its open-door policy for the Manchester homeless, into a closed-door, referral-only one [ITV News, 21 October 2015]. Wes Hall, the man who helped break the squat and cried when he heard Neville-Giggs agreed to let them stay, has since been ostracised as a “bad squatter” by the group running things. The media got mud-slinging with this exclusive in The Sun: “Neville’s squatter is racist footie yob” [The Sun, October 2015].

In the end, the story has become a cosy story which the PR department can rehash again and again as Giggs-Neville promote their new hotel venture: [Daily Mail, 27 October 2015]. Freedom’s “Charitable Disempowerment: The Sock Exchange” [29 October 2015] gives some of the details of what went down, and a critique of the all that stinks about the whole situation. We can only hope that those holding the space do not allow this story to become a win for the anti-squatting Establishment. The narrative so far has been divisive. The positive message of this story should be: “Landlords, negotiate with squatters, because it makes sense, but don’t try to control the outcome.”

Kid’s Company, Peckham

The Kid’s Company building in Peckham provides a good example of what is currently going on in South London, as the area is swamped with the rich and dumb. Peckham is currently at the forefront of the yuppie invasion, as “interested parties” try to reclaim the area from the largely Afro-Carribean-Global community and reinvent it as some sort of art-hip-funky-fresh pishpot.

peck

Kid’s Company was a children’s charity providing a community centre and safe space for the kids of Peckham. Camila Batmanghelidjh, its eccentric and outspoken founder, was for a while, feted by the rich, royalty and political careerists, who sought to associate themselves with this modern-day Mother Teressa. At the same time, the rich neighbours of the Kid’s Company, complained no end of poor children hanging around the area, infecting the value of their £750,000 homes. Things came to a head when the fork-tongued Tory government promised the charity £3 million, but then pulled out, instead slinging accusations of financial mismanagement and sexual abuse at them; while the claims were unsubstantiated, shit sticks, and anyway papers love a good tale of child abuse. The Daily Mail [5 August 2015] and Huffington Post [7 August 2015] both ran with the story. The space closed with the  gathering of 200 local people grieving the loss of a vital service for their children, in an area blighted with nowhere to go.

cam

Then, the empty building was squatted a few months later, and the neighbours were appalled. The Evening Standard article [26 October 2015] captures quotes from some of the self-obsessed, noise-intolerant yuppie-invaders, such as Donald Clarke, 48, “who works in interior design”, who said: “It’s just a nightmare, another blight on the area. Kids Company were actually a nightmare for us, too. There were kids taking drugs and people loitering around and someone’s car was broken into. But now we have a new problem which has the potential to be much worse.” The story of the squatters, covered in the Express [26 October 15] and Evil Standard, focuses on the split as, probably two crews, had a disagreement about parties and drugs in the space. The situation seems to have been resolved, as the party crew moved across the road into another empty space.

The articles seem to want to make three points: 1) squatters are divided into “good” (quiet) and “bad” (party) squatters, and are falling apart because of this, 2) the irony of squatters evicting squatters (oh, how hypocritical, they coo), 3) squatters are a blight to the area, just like underprivileged kids. These deviously constructed perspectives are easily rebuffed, but it does highlight where the MSM narrative around squatting is going.

 

Camden Mothership, West Hampstead

Twitter: @mothershipccc

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Camden Mothership was established in an ex-housing department building owned by Camden Council, that had been empty for 3+ years. The building sits along the busy West Hampstead high-street, infested with upmarket estate agents, gastro-pubs and a rash of block-glass-brick cardboard yuppie flats. The area is under attack, as Camden Council capitalise on rising property prices by selling off public land to developers, and at the centre of these top-down mass-building policies are Labour councillors like Theo Blackwell, Word of Warcraft geek and all-round politricking shit-bag (any good articles on Blackwell’s murky past, please send them to us). Local groups have been locked in combat with Camden Council for a while, objecting to the lack of affordable housing in new-builds, their sheer size and Docklands-like blandness; groups like Stop the Blocks have been started to challenge these cold development plans.

The Mothership provided the ideal rallying point for these disparate groups, as rainbow-hippies were beamed down from Outer-space, right into the dry and completely untouched office block at 156 West End Lane. The intergalactic squatters set about fixing the building, organising workshop space, and liaising with neighbours. They had had plans for a 24/7 community centre, offering free space to local activities, a fire-pit in the backyard and a big open-door Christmas feast for the lonely, homeless and elderly. Even as local councilors, press and campaigns lobbied hard for the squatters, the anti-busker, pro-property guardian Camden Council (Newbould Guardians was born here with council support) said No! They took the squatters to court, got a possession order, and within 24hours, kicked the galactic refugees out onto the street again.

Unlike Camden Council, many other councils are handing over their empty buildings to the homeless this winter, such as Manchester. Money-mad, hard-hearted Camden however would never even consider the homeless, who it wants gone to accommodate the feelings of the “better-sort”.

Wider media coverage of this press-friendly squat/ campaign was piss-poor. As usual, local rags (Ham&High, Camden New Journal) covered it somewhat, and the only London-wide and nationwide coverage was celeb-focused, namely supporters Jim Carter, the Downton Abbey star [Evening Standard, 17 Nov 15] and Piers Corbyn, brother of Jeremy, during right-wing Corbyn-mania, in the Sun [20 Nov 15] and Telegraph [20 Nov 15]. Apart from some Ham&High articles, the MSM press largely ignored the real issues the squatters were raising. Ham&High and Camden New Journal (Local Press) Coverage, offer a blow-by-blow account of events surrounding the squat:

Scumoween at Lambeth Bridge

The story of the Scumoween Halloween squat party is another tale of an increasingly squeezed London, as the authorities try to smother underground culture in the sterilising London Village. On Halloween night – when the gateway between the material world and the world of ghouls and ghosts opens temporarily – a large squat party was to occur somewhere in South London; at about midnight the venue was announced on the phone line, and people flocked from across London to this 30+ sound system extravaganza. What happened next is rather hazy, from a small sample of eye-witness accounts.

scum

Soon after the venue was announced, several vanloads of police turned up. What they said to the organisers or how they conducted themselves is uncertain; were they just there, passively patrolling the area, or did they cordon off the party, stopping anyone going into the “illegal rave”, as they have done in many other cases? Whichever their action, the result was the same. People coming to the party were trapped outside, unable to get in; the sight of police/ police blocking the way incited the rather excitable crowd of ghoulish revelers. Before long, the streets were turned into a battleground as the crowd (made up of all sorts of people with grievances against the fuzz) took on the well-equipped robo-Met.

cam

Meanwhile, inside, those in the party was oblivious to all this going on outside, and people enjoyed a full-on party till around 6am. At this point, as the party dispersed, the Met bust into the squatted building and confiscated around 35 sound rigs, and arresting many of those who had supplied them. For those who are unaware, sound rigs provide the basic infrastructure for the (now dwindling) free and squat party scenes, and without them, crucial underground entertainment dies. The rigs are all currently under arrest, sitting in the police lock-up, with no hope of release before April 2016. This is a serious blow to the squat party scene, which has entertained many thousands of people in the capital for decades now. And as the frustration at London’s dying party scene builds (eg March for Parties, and even bemoaned in the right-wing press, like VICE [4 June 15] and The Telegraph [7 April 2015]), so the Beastie Boys comes crashing to mind, since, in the end, we are all going to have to “Fight for Your Right (to Party)”.

The media of course had a field day. Here was a perfect anti-squatting story set-up, especially considering the numbers of riot police available to break up a huge party on Halloween, and the predictable results. The result was splashed across the national media and television, with a narrative focused on 1) illegal raves/ squats mean violence and riots, 2) a “suspected” petrol bomb (the media have been salivating for a concrete example of this continental phenomena for ages now, so they can put squatting and terrorism in the same bucket). Apart from the squat!net article (“London: Scumoween squat party turns into a riot” [squat!net, 3 November 2015], all the following are from the Mainstream gutter press (MSM):

Events Gone By

Radical Housing Network ConferenceDirect Action in a Time of Crisis”: The day-long conference was held on Saturday 14th November, was well attended by a diverse array of people from various housing situations. At times the event drifted into political in-fighting and theoretical niggling, but overall, strong speakers from action-based groups like HASL, Carpenters, etc as well as engaging group conversations meant the day was fruitful and enjoyable. Several squatters were in attendance, and squatting came up in the group feedback sessions (eg “Is squatting an investment flat, squatting commercial?”). The “Squatting” break-out group saw an interesting discussion develop between squatters and non-squatters, which raised points around “squatting for squatting’s sake”, property guardians, and public perceptions about squatting. Hopefully this is just the beginning of this sort of networking format, which provides easy access to those interested in housing, and an information exchange.

Squat benefit gigs are still going on in London. The Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) benefit was hosted by a squat in south London a few weekends ago, displaying the best of underground music/ performance, featuring punk/experimental like Screaming Toenail, and raising money for an excellent group. Good people, beautiful venue, great music, cheap night – result.

 

Articles Written about Squatting

cave

The following article in the Independent on Charlie Gilmour’s new photographic exhibition about squatting in the 1970’s is pretty much on-message and informative, which is not usual for the liberal media. The article is a good summary of some of the squatting-related groups and tactics of the period.

“New photography exhibition shows the tough reality of the now barely legal squatting movement” [The Independent, 21 Oct 2015]

One of those academic texts about spatial-relations, etc, which looks at some of the radical housing actions of the 1970’s, in New York, Britain, and Soviet East Germany. One of its key points is that squatters assisted the rise of the neo-liberal, anti-statist Margaret Thatcher (hmmm).

“SACRPH 2015: The Politics (and Non-Politics) of the Unplanned City in the US, UK, and Germany” [Tropics of Meta, 12 Nov 2015]

Squatting in Parliament

SQUASH track the debate around squatting in Parliament and Westminster, to ascertain what the mood and appetite is in Whitehall for further criminalisation. At the moment, squatting seems to still be on the back-burner, but it does still pop up in discussions. It has been mentioned in three places to date, namely around the Housing & Planning Bill, Cuts to Policing, and the Mole Valley Travellers.

The first mention is in relation to the sell-off of council property in Hackney. Instead of working with housing co-operatives created out of the squatting in the 1970’s and 1980’s, they prefer giving their assets over to rapacious housing associations. Thus buildings saved by squatting will soon be sold off for a quick buck.

Housing and Planning Bill – in a Public Bill Committee (10th November 2015)

pish

Phil Glanville: “To answer that question, we have quite a few housing co-operatives within the borough already. They tend to be managing existing stock that they have been bequeathed through CPOs in the past and through the squatting movement in the ‘70s and ‘80s. As far as I am aware, they are not currently seeking to develop. We are focusing on working with housing association partners and our own new build programme that will deliver 3,000 homes over 10 years, 52% of which will be truly affordable. The rental properties there will be council rented homes on our land, making best use of our assets. We are bringing forward 18 sites. In fact, the borough is the largest house builder of any kind within Hackney, including building homes for sale, which is important as we are not against building homes for sale or for low-cost home ownership; we just do not think that the Bill will help with that process in borough such as Hackney.

The second mention is in the debate about government cuts to the police services. Here, gentrification-junkies Southwark Council bemoan the fact that fewer police will mean squatters can occupy more of their decanted buildings.

Policing

pish

Neil Coyle: “There has been a lack of focus in the debate on business crime, although my hon. Friend Peter Kyle raised the issue far more eloquently than I probably will. There are concerns that relate to businesses in my constituency. The rise in shoplifting has been raised with me by Tesco managers. Particular businesses have been targeted—for example, pub users have had their mobile phones stolen. We have seen a dramatic increase in commercial squatting across the constituency, which I raised with the Met commissioner. The Albion in Rotherhithe and The Elephant and Castle—unsurprisingly, located in Elephant and Castle—have been targeted. Even the Metropolitan police’s own building, the former forensic lab in Walworth, was squatted by about 80 people until it was emptied for sale.

There is some interesting inaccuracies/ misinformation in the speech, part of the general anti-squatting narrative/ prejudice: 1] The issue of squatting is raised while talking about commercial thefts (ie “stealing a building”), very common in the mainstream narrative. Rebuttal: Squatting is a homeless issue, not a criminal matter. 2] Of the pubs “targeted”, the Elephant and Castle was supposed to be protected as a heritage site, but the council got round it and tried to open up a Foxtons there. Then it was squatted (see: Squatting Spring – 2015). Rebuttal: Squatters are resisting Southwark council’s insane ambitions to wipe out all the local businesses and people. Empty buildings, squat or let them rot?

Lastly, “squatting the land” was mentioned on 20th October 2015 again in relation to Travellers in Mole Valley near Guilford. The MP claims that the area is currently unable to meet the demand for travellers’ sites in the area due to greenbelt restraints, and wants to get round requirements to house travellers, especially those with children. The arguments are reminiscent of the Victorian Poor Laws (eg should the parish house those not from the area?) and a bit of a catch 22, in that the council consistently reject applications for private traveller sites.