Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Squatdoyouthink, 2 : Atom Tom

Last Sunday, a non-squatter friend interviewed Atom Tom for his take on squatting et al. The following has been edited to focus on squatting.

So, Atom Tom, why are you squatting now?

Basic need, really. I can't afford to pay the rent, and anyway rents in London are mad, it's like throwing your money away.

What was your view of squatting before you started?

That only junkies, layabouts, benefit fraudsters or rich kids trying to look cool do it. That you're on the trash heap of society if you squat.

How were you introduced to squatting?

Via Shelter, a couple of years ago. The building of my rented flat was basically being sold. During the sale period I was housesitting at a friend's and wondering where to live, and whilst there spoke with Shelter about the kind of interim housing options that were available.

They couldn't help me, but they did put me on to a few squatting advisory places and sure enough I found a squat two weeks later -- which I didn't accept straight away, by the way. I couldn't believe I was going to squat!

What has been the one of the best experiences so far?

Coming into this flat that had nothing working.. and using nothing but our hands and ingenuity to bring it back to life, even though it was frustrating at the same time!

One of the most empowering?

Rebuilding the toilet, restoring the electrics. This blog has also been great fun, an outlet for my anxieties and education.

And the worst?

The council. The police showing up.

Have you squatted before this?

Yep, two years ago. There were either 5-8 flatmates, there were so many people about it was hard to tell. It was a non-stop party house of electric guitars, endless flowing vodka and trance parties. And big rats. Not very relaxing, if you're trying to work 9-5 and study. All the time I was thinking, "I can't wait to get out of here!"

What is your view of squatting now that you are squatting again?

This time round has been an interesting mix of, a) the world of squatting (including activisim, anarchism, DIY culture, skipping) which has been extremely sociable and, b) the responsibility of rebuilding and maintaining your squat from scratch. Plus dealings with the police and local council, being a firsthand witness to flat smashing and abuse towards squatters. It is a collision of philosophy and politics being played out live.

If you could choose, would you squat or pay rented accommodation?

Paying rent. A really, really affordable rent, mind.

Why is that?

Well, a sense of security for one. I love squatting, but it isn't easy. You need to adjust your way of living to accommodate the new realities that squatting represents, not the other way round. Like staying in, for example, which is important to the survival of a squat. Someone needs to be indoors 9-5 Monday-Friday to keep watch over the premises. It's difficult to implement in practice, and yet we'd be dead without it.

Do you think squatting needs a better image to encourage people to participate eg. do we call it something else?

I do think squatting needs a word that actually describes what it is -- it almost sounds like a dirty word, something disgusting, from the toilet. I think of what we do as being part renovation, part caretaking. We're making homes out of empty places -- we're not taking a shit in them! We don't generally lean towards ugly words, do we, unless we mean to hurt someone, dehumanise them.

I definitely think the view of squatting needs to be portrayed better; right now the mainstream opinion is of squatters as junkies, outcasts, illegal people, although people also think squatting is cool (but only if artists do it). I do think a more empowering and inclusive word is needed, for sure, if only to disempower the establishment.