Thursday, 30 July 2009

What is Squat Potato?

Taken from the viewpoint of a novice squatter, Squat Potato explores the fringe world of squatting. Written initially from an embedded experience, Squat Potato is part documentary, part manual of the squatting experience.

You will also find here interviews with squatters (in Squatdoyouthink), voxpops from nonsquatters (Voxsquatpop), and squatting news from around the world (Jacket Potato), as well as philosophical debate.

For the purposes of anonymity, the names of those featured in this blog have been changed. All photos within are my own, unless noted, and cannot be reproduced without permission.

Many thanks for reading.

Atom Tom

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Chopped Potato : Spring eternal

Or, "Rumble in the bronx."

Back in January, I noted in my Londonist interview that rumours of demolition work on the estate were due to begin in the Spring.

Well, it appears that Spring has now finally arrived.

The following photos show the beginnings of the estate's transformation into a building site, with six council blocks in total due to go under.

First up, equipment installed just today to test the water quality of the ground opposite Caspian House.


The almost redundant flats of Darien House, the next block from Caspian.


The demolition warnings and fences sealing off the grounds to Aden House and Taranto House are a sure sign of activity.


More evidence of the council's intentions for Aden House.


Aden House (where most of the squatter meetings had been held) now forbidden territory, unless you happen to wear a hardhat.


Flores House (three blocks away from our flats) and the dumping ground for worksite equipment (note the stack of fences lain on the grass). Also in this photo, one of the dog patrol vans.


Close up of Flores House, with a few squats still standing.


The mobile office suggests the workmen are in it for the long haul. The demolition of everything is expected to be completed by March 2010.


NB Security doesn't like you taking photos of all this, by the way, and will hightail it after you as you do so (yes, I was hightailed).

Monday, 27 July 2009

Chopped Potato : Court up

July 27th today, the day that the "notice to quit" quits.

What now? According to a council official, who was on site this morning to inspect Darien House (the next block over from ours), eviction papers are due next, with squatters expected to attend court in six weeks' time.

And not just any old court either -- the High Court. As the highest level of court, the choice automatically prevents appeals and protests should the squatters lose in court. It also means that High Court bailiffs will be on their way soon after and they're the type of bailiff who don't mess about. So expect the first week of September to be the end of the estate as we have known it.

And don't expect the council to help rehouse or relocate the squatters they will evict. They won't. Kicked out onto the street the squatters will go.

Other news: estate security was spotted knocking on the doors of squats this morning, to see if any of them were occupied; with the Sitex people in close proximity as these house calls were being made. Their hope: to shut down squats whilst their occupants were out in support of 94 squats in Poplar that were due in court today. Sneaky tactic, but with no success, thanks to the squats here being adequately covered.

Only two empty flats (never used as squats in the first place) were Sitex'd up.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Jacket Potato

Europe squat stuff...

Thinking about squatting in Prague? Check out the latest turn of events in the eviction of Milada, the city's last remaining squat.

Reminiscing about the good ol' days of squatting in London? Then read urban75's 'obit' on the 121 Centre, a squatted community anarchist centre in Brixton that served campaign and community groups for 18 years.

In 2007, artistic collective Macaq squatted a neglected empty apartment in Paris to highlight the lack of student housing in the city. Read about their efforts here.

Photos from inside the Barcelona squat in Amsterdam.

Wanna start your own direct action? The Human Shrub can show you how.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Squatshots, 8 : Nurse this

From a derelict nursing home of a former hospital to a community autonomous free space? Then check out the north London-based Krankenhouse.


Home to 15-20 squatters, the space hosts events, art workshops, music rehearsal space and a gallery for the local community.




A t-shirt printing room!


Even the toilet gets theirs.


Sunday, 12 July 2009

Living projects?

Living projects? Slack space? Are these better words than "squatting" or worse?

Leave it to the middle-class broadsheets, though, to celebrate (albeit, once again, art) squats, this time with the Observer reporting on Berlin squats -- in their travel section! As the author of the article writes,
"One of the quirks I've noticed since moving to Berlin is the squats dotted about the city. In London, where I'm from, you don't see squats much. You might read about them in the paper - a bunch of rich kids who've squatted on Billionaires' Row, or an old man who has squatted for 50 years undetected - but that's about it."
One interesting point she picks up on is "VoKü", short for Volksküche, meaning "people's kitchen", which is when squats open their doors to the community and offer food at affordable prices. How this affects her views towards squatting can be read here.

Beware: yo-pro tone throughout.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Squat heavy

At the top of this photo (as viewed from Kitchen Sink Neighbour's squat) is the boarded-up home of the recently removed Polish family. If you squint real hard, you may be able to pick out a human figure standing up against a wall.


What we thought was a squatter enjoying the brief spell of rain hurtling at us this afternoon turns out to be a lookout for a squat opening. That new squat being, the ex-Polish family abode.

The squatters have gained access through the roof hatch of their squat which is next door. The lookout is there to keep an eye out on the security patrol. Once we realise what he is doing, we too start to do our bit, by also keeping watch and letting other squatters know of the action taking place.

It doesn't take long to gain access, although the guys are in need of boltcutters to crack the D-lock around the outside railings. It isn't until around 10pm that the security guards become aware of the break-in. They also call in the cops, four of whom are now up on the gangway trying to protect the flat.

Joining them, however, are squatters from all across the estate, each of them arriving to give the squat some support. I'm counting about 30 of us, all quietly turning up and forming a crowded group on the landing, chatting amongst ourselves as though we're in a queue for a gig.

Amongst the cops, we spot a couple of guys later identified as "the fake squatters". That is, plains clothes police dressed as squatters who also drive a sleek black car. Once the police arrive, the security guards step back, returning to their vans to shine flashlights in our direction. According to Kitchen Sink Neighbour, their pleas of "we need to stand with our comrades" (aka the cops) had apparently gone unnoticed, by both the squatters and their 'comrades'.

It is really heartening to see this organised action taking place... it's almost like an impromptu get-together, part resistance/part how's it going. After 30 minutes of the cops not getting their way, they decide to leave, to huge cheers from the squatters.

Here's a shaky photo of the cops chatting with the security and the fakes post-win.


Over a spicy rice supper, Kitchen Sink Neighbour and I later talk about the whole shebang of the day and the implications for our squats and this particular block of flats.

Meanwhile, the photo below (and taken today) updates you on the progress of the flat Sitex'ing, in this case with Darien House, the block opposite to ours.

Dramarama

Or, "Who let you in?"

Four days after my departure and... this afternoon, the squat is broken into.


This is the window that faces out onto the gangway, now boarded up after today's incident, thanks to a neighbouring squatter with a spare bit of wood and a drill. This was also the entry point for the intruders. The story, as Kitchen Sink Neighbour tells it:
"Peter, who lives in a squat in the opposite block, spotted three Bengali boys breaking into your squat. He said it looked like they were drunk, that they were loitering on the gangway and chancing it with your flat. I also heard what vaguely sounded like smashing glass, but when I went to investigate, I saw the security guard with his dog standing outside the squat, looking at the damage.

Within minutes, Orbis (the Sitex people) were on the scene attempting to break into the squat to close it up. The squatters downstairs and two from a neighbouring block were on hand to kick up a massive fuss and stop Orbis and the security from doing their job.

After a few minutes of this, Orbis left, only managing to crowbar off the lock on your door. A couple of squatters went inside to watch the place afterwards, for a few minutes, to make sure nothing else happened to it.

Your ex-squat was very lucky today, with what the neighbours did. After all, Orbis were in the legal right. There was nobody in the squat after all."
Yes, that's right, there was nobody in the squat. Nobody manning the "staying in" hours. It was fortunate I was on my way to the estate that afternoon anyway and was able to assess the damage straight away. I was both annoyed and disheartened to hear that nobody was in the squat during all of this.

Here is the front door area now -- note the missing Legal Warning.


The front bedroom window from the inside.


Fortunately, nothing was stolen or damaged. But the reality that the squat could've been closed down today and the housemates evicted before they'd even had the chance to collect their stuff -- very close call. No one could've predicted the events at "my" squat today, Kitchen Sink Neighbour later noted. It has shaken us all.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Hickory dickory squat

You are asked of everything when it comes to squatting and nothing less. The fainthearted just won't do and the privileged won't have a clue. How else can you handle police and dog patrols on your doorstep, junkies injecting openly into their testicles in your stairwell, days and nights without electricity, the 24/7 DIY?

But today I am leaving the squat, on principle. That principle being, that your contribution to the squat does entitle a housemate the right to have an equal voice in household decision-making.

Significantly contributing since October 2008 is one thing. But then to be told, six months later, that none of it means you have any voice in the squat -- seriously, how can you stay after being told that? How can you stand silently by and watch cronyism and hierarchy take over all the decision-making for your home? There are far better things to do than be screwed over in a place that was once your labour of love.

I am therefore leaving a squat that I no longer believe in.

But shed no tears, for this amazing education that is squatting is far from over. As Tom Stoppard puts it, exit one door and another one opens straight away. In fact, I feel even more passionate about squatting than ever and will definitely keep tabs on the squat, esp. in light of July 27th. There's no keeping me away from the place (except ethically).

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Voxsquatpop

Voxsquatpop asks ordinary people - what they think of squatting, who they think squats, would they squat, if the financial crisis will encourage more squatting, and if squatting needs a better word to describe it. Please note: in the USA, it is illegal to squat.

Freelance writer, from San Francisco, CA, USA

I'm not very knowledgeable on it, but it strikes me as a creative way for people to find suitable living situations. I don't necessarily support the illegal side of it, but then again, if there is unused space that could go to better use, why not take advantage of it and make it worthwhile for someone or a group of someones?

I guess I always thought it was renegade wandering folks, ex-hippies, anti-establishment types, or more likely, the homeless looking for a free roof over their heads. I've now been in contact with someone more like me whom I've learned is squatting, and I'm curious and intrigued by this more spartan, rogue lifestyle.

Doubtful. I don't think I have it in me to, 1) break the law, and, 2) deal without a few creature comforts. Don't get me wrong: I live a very minimalist lifestyle, and am hardly the hair-and-makeup kind of gal. But I really value running water, modern plumbing, and I love to cook, so not having a decent kitchen with the bare necessities would be really tough on me.

I could see it happening, although here in the States, and especially in San Francisco where I live, people seem to take to the streets and live outdoors, as we have very agreeable weather. But I could also just be unaware of a squatting scene here in the city.

Definitely. To me, the word isn't very appealing. It literally makes me think of stooping down and engaging the ol' thigh muscles to take a dump, like I did for many months in those pit toilets throughout Asia and Africa.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Chopped Potato : Paper trail

Here is that "notice to quit" letter (with our flat number and name of the housing officer blurred out):



Monday, 22 June 2009

Jacket Potato

News of unusual squats...

Have you ever squatted an airport? That's what squatters have been doing since June 20th at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. A vacant airport since October 31 2008, the 400 hectares of land (equiv. to 525 football fields) is in the midst of redevelopment limbo, thanks to huge local opposition to plans for luxury apartments. Check out Demotix's site for more details.

In light of the recent "MP expenses" outrage here in the UK, a group of squatters have taken over the empty West London property of a pair of MPs, dubbed Mr and Mrs Expenses, in protest at their expense claims. Read here and glee.

Squatters winning eviction battles? So goes the case for the Oubliette Collective who, since May 2009, have been squatting a former school and hostel in south London that have stood empty since August 2007. Read here and glee again.

A unisex squat sauna which is open to all? With a steam room, vegetarian food also on offer and a chillout garden? Yes, really.

Is this story helping the public image of squatting? Back in 2006, Polish decorators hired to do up a flat owned by a banker reportedly downed tools upon arrival, moved in to the flat whilst she was away, and then claimed squatters rights! Read here and ponder.

And ponder this while you're at it!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Chopped Potato : What is this quit?

Not exactly court papers, but today we (and every other squatter here) received a "notice to quit" letter from the local "authority"/owner.

Addressed to the previous tenants of our flat, the housing officer of the letter states: I know there are trespassers in there -- so vacate the premises soonest please -- and hand over your keys too. Not written as gently as that, but pretty much the gist of it. With a threat attached of course, "Failure to do so"...

And also a date: Monday 27th July. Where our "period of tenancy", according to the owner, is due to expire. Whatever that means. The Advisory Service for Squatters agrees that this letter is nothing but nonsense, don't worry about it they say. So we won't.

But in all honesty -- all of nine months for the local "authority" to figure out there are squatters in this block of flats? Uh huh. Either this time lag is an indication of the complexity of their bureaucracy in getting such matters sorted out or just cause for plain bad eyesight.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Talk to the dog

Since the beginning of the year, the local estate has been patrolled by security guards from Force 1 Security. Their purpose: to stop squatters breaking into new places.


A very specific purpose, that. So watertight that it means that when junkies lurk in the stairwell or attempt to steal waterpipes -- so-called security DO NOTHING.

And when they do do something vis a vis their role on the estate, they're a bit slow getting to it. Hiring bulky Polish guys to run after squatters or step to it with break-ins just doesn't work. But then, whose ever heard of a lithe security guard anyway?

When not limping into action, the guards indulge in the following:
* Sit in their cars all day whilst parked in various lots on the estate. Sometimes they'll park their cars together, like a mini auto-meet.

* Allow their guard dog a very brief respite from being cooped up in the car pen. Yes, their dogs were left in their cars during the recent London heatwave.

Their lack of dog training has meant that guards frequently drag their dogs by the lead, as witnessed by many squatters; one incident reportedly saw a guard force his dog to walk over broken glass! Said dogs aren't really guard dogs either, just playful German shepherds happy to catch sticks and enjoy the breeze. Hired no doubt because they look like mean dogs.

* Sometimes pair the dogs off with each other in a kind of manly "my dog growls louder than yours" type stand-off battle. Probably good for guard manhood or something.

* Test the limits of their personal carbon footprint. ie, park in the parking lot, then drive out. Then reverse park back in. Then drive out, go around the block. Return, park. Drive out. Etc.

* And occasionally look mean, with their jackboots and muzzled canines.
Wow, we feel secure.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Steeling our neighbourhood

To prevent new squatters from taking any of the six empty properties on the first floor, the council has taken the following action..

Yes, they have sealed off access to the entire floor -- with Sitex.


Just when we were starting to miss seeing fresh new Sitex again in our everyday lives.

Look here:


And on the opposite side:


Two unique viewpoints transformed by Sitex into a giant cheese grater.

To stop any attempt from squatters on the second floor to access this floor, the council has also encased part of the gangway with... more Sitex.


Note the black anti-climb paint on the edges of the metal.

They have also brought back the practice of latching Sitex onto the windows that face out into the street, a tactic they haven't used in a long time on this estate (when we arrived, very few of the newer empties were treated this way).

According to Kitchen Sink Neighbour, this renewed tactic was in response to a rumour doing the rounds of squatters who were planning to jump up onto the balconies to open squats and thus evade the dog patrols. Rumours no doubt heard by the security guards and conveyed to Sitex central.



With 24/7 dog patrols and these Sitex barriers, our block of flats is beginning to resemble the set of a TV crime drama. Which is apt, since living here is a drama in and of itself.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Jacket Potato

New squat news, this time from non-squatters and their "hysteria" towards us.

"Council forced to give squatters a list of all its empty properties". That pretty much says it all.

And another. "Owner speaks of squatter hell".

"Riot police break into London squats" reports on the unfortunate consequences of the testosterone-pumped police presence at the G20 demo on April 1st.

If you're after positive press attention for your squat -- make sure your squat has been opened by middle-class artists, then we'll talk. That's what the Guardian newspaper seems to be telling us, in its latest fixation with such squats. It's telling that this article appears in their "art & design" section. Where would they put a non-artistic squat?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Oh ship

Do you remember Polish Husband? Who assisted us with the roof invaders and gave chase to Kitchen Sink Neighbour's attacker? He and his family have been fine neighbours, just friendly to us squatters from the get go.

Have been? Uh, why?

Because of this.


Yes, Sitex. The family have been moved, to temporary premises in east London. USgal noted that the flat smashing of their home took approximately three hours.

The shipping off of the Polish family has been a surprise. We knew they'd go someday, but their departure is a signal to us that the council is active again, with regards to this block. USgal reports that the single mother family on the second floor have also been relocated. We wonder what move will be made next.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Chopped Potato : May day

Playing truant from the squat in recent weeks has meant a plot hole in May. Not to fear... here's a round-up of various incidents this past month.

Phone Tree

A positive outcome of the squatters meet in March has been a phone tree, connecting as many of the 'flat liberators' on the estate as possible.

The 'squatter hotline number' is that of a cellphone belonging to Polishgal who lives two blocks away, whose unlimited and free text messaging enables the rest of us to receive estate news that is sms'd directly to her (and which she distributes). A useful service indeed it is (if vulnerable; if Polishgal departs, so will the phone number).

Recent news has included: warnings about a teenage pervert boy who has been pestering women walking through the estate in the evenings; local Bengali boys stoning a local squat in protest at it being there; and court papers being delivered to nearby squats.

Evictions

The council is at work again, with eviction notices issued to neighbouring squats, but in opposition, so has the squatters' network on the estate. One morning in early May, 30 estate squatters descended on a squat that was in the process of being closed by bailiffs and reopened it in... 12 minutes!... right before the bailiffs' eyes (who obviously cannot do anything to stop it).

The security guards who patrol our estate, and are meant to stop squatters from opening new spots, were apparently, according to eyewitnesses, mortified -- and yet paralysed by what they saw. Local radio station Resident FM later reported this event on one of their shows.

Junkies

What of the junkies who have been terrorising our block (as well as their jugulars and testicles) since last November? Who have haunted the first floor and stairwells, and left syringes and shopping bags full of their faeces for all to see?

Gone, forever. But not easily in their departure. As Kitchen Sink Neighbour recounts:
"Polish Husband's wife had already passed them in the stairwell when I came back home late one Friday, giving her aggro on the way. They had apparently arrived within minutes of the security guards leaving.

As I made my way through them, I asked them kindly if they wouldn't mind taking their needles with them afterwards. They were not pleased. One of them followed me up to the landing, shouting at me about it. When I turned around to ask him kindly again, out of nowhere, he hit me in the face! I started screaming as the man ran off.

Polish Husband had obviously spoken with his wife, because within seconds of my attack, he was out of his flat... he looked at me and then legged down the stairwell and GAVE CHASE to the man, also with the help of the guy in No. 6 who'd also come out of his flat. Both of them rugby tackled the junkie to the ground and held him there until the security guards came.

We haven't seen the junkies since."
Kitchen Sink Neighbour has since made a full recovery.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Scotters rights

Legal in England and Wales to squat, but what about Scotland? These empties, in Glasgow, are just too wonderful to ignore and yet...



...you can go to prison for squatting in Scotland, as this snippet of their law shows:
"By the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865, it is a criminal offence to 'lodge in any premises or encamp on any land which is private property without the consent or permission of the owner or legal occupier'. The maximum penalty is a fine and imprisonment up to 21 days."
As much as you'd like to make use of these abandoned buildings, you sadly can't. What a loss, and very much an eyesore in return.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Jacket Potato

New squat-related news, this time from the United States.

And whilst it may be illegal to squat there, it hasn't stopped a number of advocacy groups taking advantage of the climate of foreclosures in the US, by actively moving homeless people into vacant properties. One such group is Take Back The Land, whose website features video footage of their efforts and dialogue with Max Rameau, founding member.

The foreclosure crisis is very much in the news over there. Amongst the stories of squatting of such is this one of a young man happily living in a foreclosure until he was discovered. Interesting to note in this article how they keep the leccy and water switched on in these empty properties.

The New York Times has just published photos of California's tent cities. These communities include the Village of Hope, where people are housed in tool sheds, and a tent encampment in Fresno called New Jack City. Other American shantytowns and tent communities have started springing up across the country, as evidenced here.

Umoja Village in Miami, Florida, until 2007 when it was accidentally burnt down, was home to 50 homeless people. Erected on a vacant lot that once housed low-income apartments, Umoja offered a safe space to put down roots and work towards a communal cause. Read their story.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Voxsquatpop

Voxsquatpop asks ordinary people - what they think of squatting, who they think squats, would they squat, if the financial crisis will encourage more squatting, and if squatting needs a better word to describe it.

Freelance writer & editor, based in north London

Squatting as a concept intrigues me. I wish I had the balls and resourcefulness to create a home from a neglected, broken space. It takes a lot of imagination and stamina -- hearing about the Temporary School of Thought in the media not long ago was fantastic -- there was a group of people who not only took on a place and made it a home, but pooled their collective talents and opened up their dwelling to share and learn with other people. It was the first positive news story I'd heard about squatting ever!

Opportunists of all sorts I think -- whether fluffy or junkie. It's not a mainstream choice. I suspect the stereotype of activist, artist, those trying not to be found and those with alternative lifestyles is still pretty true.

No, I don't think I would. The opportunity has never presented itself to me and I wouldn't go looking for it -- if it did, and the right kind of people were around me -- experienced, creative, handy squatters who can fix toilets and know their rights... it might be appealing, inspiring even. But I like my domestic space, to know that it's mine and that I'm secure in it. I wouldn't like the possibility that I might get evicted hanging over my head. Also, I have cats. Squatting is probably not ideal for cats.

I don't think the crisis will encourage squatting, although clearly it's an option for the very desperate, if they've lost their home. But I don't think it's that straightforward to squat. I think it takes either a lot of thought, planning and energy. Unless it's a totally opportunist thing or simply finding somewhere to sleep or indulge a habit. I don't think squatting will ever be a mainstream choice. Most people don't have the imagination or the stomach for hard work.

I like the notion that 'fluffy' squatters reclaim unloved spaces and make them homes. Squatting is a terrible word, synonymous with junkie squats. It also suggests temporariness, you literally can't squat for long. And I guess it generally isn't a long-term solution, but I would like to hear a more positive phrase to describe what ingenious and diligent 'fluffy' squatters do.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Slack space?

Temporary schools of thoughts are one thing, but the Guardian has recently reported on the growing 'slack space' movement as a possible way forward for artists occupying disused buildings.

Slack space? They define it as, space caused by business closures during recessions that provides a foothold for numerous successful businesses. The article discusses how one in six shops will be vacant by the end of the year and the ways that local artists are reworking the empties, ie. a vacant Woolworth's becoming a community cafe, a papier mache business taking root in a former greengrocer's.

Is this a form of squatting or just another moneymaking enterprise? The article thinks it might be the former: "Artists and curators have begun colonising "slack space" freed up by the recession and are transforming vacant shops into "creative squats", galleries and studios." Make up your own mind here.

*

Meanwhile, with businesses shutting down by the dozen in these recession'd times, UK ministers this month have outlined a series of emergency measures to prevent the rise of ghost towns as a result.

Part of their plan includes giving thousands of grants to people who can find creative uses for vacant shops. The article describes this new UK law as coming halfway to meet potential squatters: "Planning rules will be relaxed to allow changes of use which go against local guidelines. Temporary lease agreements will enable owners who want to retain a vacant property in the long term to make it available for community or creative use."

More of this grassroots 'slack space' movement? Read here.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Voxsquatpop

Voxsquatpop asks ordinary people - what they think of squatting, who they think squats, would they squat, if the financial crisis will encourage more squatting, and if squatting needs a better word to describe it.

Transit surveyor, from Portland, OR, USA

My opinion of squatting has changed over the years. When I was a teenager, I found the idea very exciting and liberating, a real way to "stick it to the man". As I've gotten older, I've become less rebellious but I still find people making homes in unused places a really promising idea.

I'd imagine there are many different types, people who want to live off the grid, people who want to make use of available resources that are otherwise just taking up space, plain old broke folks, etc.

I used to think I would squat, but not anymore. I'm too lazy to build my own place from scratch, and I'm also on the paranoid side. There are more restrictions on squatting in the US that I don't want to have to worry about.

Yes, I think it will. People have less money to spend on housing, and there will be more empty buildings that companies won't be able to do anything with for a while.

What, like something that doesn't bring to mind taking a dump in the woods? It couldn't hurt. But, I have no suggestions for a substitute.

Shelter designer, based in South London

I think that squatting is the thin edge of the wedge of land reform in the UK and Europe in general. That makes it important.

All the squatters I know are adventurers who want free time to explore life, not work for a comfy nest.

I quite often camped illegally in national parks in America when I was travelling, that's sort of squatting. It was fun to live in the woods. Urban squatting, I dunno, the legal stuff is not my scene. I try and stay out of trouble.

I think it has already, and this is just the beginning.

No, I think squatting is just fine. If there has to be change, I think we need a different legal framework around it *and then* a new word. But any new legal framework is likely to have fewer squatters rights than exist now, and be a bad thing, so let's lay low eh?

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The gloves are off

Or, in the case of this flat smasher, the gloves were never on in the first place!


Yes, this is your tax dollars at work. What we think are junkies or local kids smashing up bottles in the parking lot turns out to be the council's flat smashers, a team of four chaps this time round, demolishing the contents of a ground-floor flat in the block opposite to ours.

What is most surprising about what this guy is doing is the fact he is wearing his regular clothes to do it -- no protective goggles to shield his eyes from the flying glass, and a BROOM to do the job?! Very technical stuff, obviously.

The guy seems to be enjoying himself too, managing to flash a few grins at local garbage collection men passing by. His entire task lasts 20 minutes tops and there is nothing gentle about it; the net curtains are torn out, the shattering window is swept from the sill onto the grass with this guy's bare hands.

All of which is mesmerising to watch, if a bit disconcerting too. You think I'd be used to a bit of council drama by now, but you never do. It keeps you alert and engaged, if nothing else.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Squatdoyouthink, 5 : Normandy

A long friend of squatting, but don't squat yourself? Here is my interview with Normandy, a socialist mother from Gloucestershire who now lives in north London.

I heard you went on an impromptu "tour" of three squats yesterday. How did this come about?

The daughter of a friend of mine has recently 'liberated' a flat so we were going to visit her. Then we dropped by yours and then on to a friend of hers who also lives on this estate.

Had you been to a squat before?

I remember when Islington Council sold off some of the Neighbourhood offices. The one opposite my daughter's school was temporarily squatted by a group of protestors who moved in for a couple of weeks (I think – it was about 10 years ago). They kept the building open and argued convincingly that it should be kept as a public space rather than being sold off to private developers.

They held meetings and welcomed visitors so we went and lent our support. After some arty stunts such as projecting images on the Town Hall opposite, sadly they were evicted. Even worse, the building is now a karaoke bar…

What was your overall impression of what you saw yesterday?

Yesterday was a surprise. Firstly the size of the estate shows how wasteful the local authority is: all those empty homes when there are so many homeless in London. It’s barking mad! It was interesting that the few leasehold residents who remain were friendly to us visitors and children were waving at us. It can’t be much fun for them living in basically a wasteland surrounded by empty flats.

Have you ever squatted before?

No. I've rented from a Housing Trust for 23 years so never needed to squat. I know people who did squat in the 80s but most managed to get social housing legitimately as it were. It’s nice to see that the spirit of the 1970s/80s lives on, I admire the collective spirit of squatters.

You told me a story of how you never paid your water bills and were able to fiddle with the leccy. What was that about?

Well, things were different in the 1980s – there was less surveillance for a start. I remember being very put out when someone gave my name to the Water Board as all the time I was a student I didn't pay any bills that came to my flat marked 'Attention Occupier'. I figured (correctly) as long as they didn't know who I was I couldn’t be charged. Electricity bills were never paid until the Red Bill reminder (Payment Overdue) came and I never heard of anyone being cut off for non-payment.

The only thing I was ever taken to court for was non-payment of the Poll Tax but that was a political objection.

As for fiddling meters… I hear some people are clever at these things and I once lived in a house where the meter was set to run backwards every so often – a real cost-cutter! I don't know how to do it myself but believe it involved magnets.

What is your take on squatting?

I have no problem with people trying to save on the rip-off rents and they are generally bringing life to a dead building. Of course, no one wants anti-social neighbours who don’t have a stake in the local community and use the place as a doss-house but that's just as common in council renters as in the squatting community (probably more so).

Do you think squatting needs a better word to encourage more participants?

I'd never thought of it negatively before but can see the PR value of 'liberating' a flat or house. It's simply the truth, anyhow.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Squatshots, 7

More than six months later, and our liberated house is evolving nicely into the peaceful home we hoped it to be.

Our own "jukebox" (all the furniture here is from a recent church giveaway).


And in the yellow corner…


Our living room has gone the way of the fairies.


The blind leading the kitchen.


Hallway, show us your lits.


A view with a room.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Voxsquatpop

Voxsquatpop asks ordinary people - what they think of squatting, who they think squats, would they squat, if the financial crisis will encourage more squatting, and if squatting needs a better word to describe it.

Events producer, based in north London

I can see why people want to make use of unused spaces. I like the 'making use'/utility aspect of it and I'm generally in favour of anything which has a 'can do' attitude and DIY approach.

Squatting, like everything, takes all kinds of people. So many friends and acquaintances of mine have squatted that they're impossible to categorise.

Well I wish I could squat, I do. It isn't something I think about, mainly as my present situation is bound up in organisations, bills, financial and work commitments and a living arrangement I've set up to support this. But my life circumstances might change.

Yes, for a start it will become an option for many more, and it may be more desirable as it becomes more visible. And this in turn may mean it becomes easier to understand for those who don't have a clue, or have never thought about it. Do financial crises encourage people to feel more communal and fashion alternative and DIY ways for living?

I wouldn't think one word would do it. Maybe we need an approach to widen participation ie. more profiles and examples of squatting, more information and visuals/photos of where it occurs, examples of benefits. There's still a mystery about it. Blogs and any networking or web activity will help I'm sure. How did that Channel 4 show 'Dumped' set on a waste dump do media-wise? Maybe a 'Squat Idol' is in the offing?

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Jacket Potato

The latest set of useful reading.

Want to highlight the fallout of the financial crisis and its effect on society? Where better than to open up a squat in an empty £3 million property just to hold a weekend conference about it -- can't get more emphasised than that. Conference report here. Usual media outcry.

Want proof of the illegal steps that property owners take to oust squatters (than go through the civil courts)? Check out the latest intrusion at rampART.

The New York Times drops a report about the recent Temporary School of Thought housing in Mayfair.

And a tribute to Alan Walter, a leading figure of the Defend Council Housing Campaign who was also involved in the infamous Tolmer Square squat in London in the '70s. Geeks amongst you may be interested in the minutes of a meeting from 1974 that documents the squatting activity in the city that year.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The roof is in the pudding

Here is Lad, a neighbouring squatter, demonstrating earlier how easy it is to access the rooftop hatch from our stairwell.



The hatch is unlocked; anyone can climb up.

We all hope the padlock installed tonight will deter the thieves.

Roof or dare?

In the case of tonight's intruders, it is both.

USgal and me can definitely hear footsteps scampering in the roof tonight -- someone is walking across our ceiling! It is 8pm and somebody has accessed the roof!

Before we can do anything, we can make out a policeman outside our door talking with Kitchen Sink Neighbour. A squad car is already here, having received a 999 call from someone on our floor (the Italian students next door we think).

This is what a police guy says to her:

"Is this one of the blocks that's going to be condemned... there's nobody up there now, there's nothing we can do... Yeah, we can see they accessed the roof, there’s nothing we can do about locking it… Call the council, yeah but if you do it enough times, they'll come and put a lock on it... We hear your concerns, but there's nothing we can do."

Trying to tell the cops about Tuesday's flood damage as a result of stolen water pipes does not budge them from "there's nothing we can do." Wow, we feel so protected.

All this basically confirms Saturday's scrap metal mongers. They’re here and they've accessed the hatch from our stairwell that leads to the electricity power station up in the roof. This is a hatch that the council leaves UNLOCKED, by the way. Does this disturb you? It disturbs us and every neighbour on this floor, bringing them all out on the gangway to investigate.

We decide to padlock the hatch ourselves, when it's pointed out that the thieves don't have tools, that they pull out the pipes with their bare hands. Bare hands can't cut padlock metal, right? The husband of our renting Polish neighbours takes charge of its purchase and attachment, all done in 15 minutes.

"That's what it's all about, safety for everyone" Polish Husband says afterwards, to the look of relief on my face. The padlock's keys will be posted to the council.

Can we exhale yet? N.o.t. y.e.t.

Kitchen Sink Neighbour later makes the observation that although the scrap thieves may not consider their actions to be stealing -- their actions are stealing our right to be here.

After all, tonight's drama is just the latest to test the council's patience with this emptying block of flats. Noisy squatters, 24hr Sitex men, twice-hourly police visits, junkies -- the council must be aware of what is taking place here. The question is: when will they respond?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Not feeling stairwell

The junkie nest may have been boarded up, but the stairwells in our council block are still attracting strangers to loiter.

In tonight's case, from what USgal and me can hear from INSIDE our living room (yes, the voices are that loud!), there is a drunk, rowdy older woman on our stairwell landing crowing away with a group of hooting blokes. It is just after 10.45pm now, and here are these loud strangers in their babble bubble.

Seriously, do these idiots not care that there are people living in this block? That people might be asleep? Do they believe this council block is completely empty?? Does consideration for others/love thy neighbour not mean anything anymore??

Our hearts go out to the residents, all of whom have small kids. USgal is itching to kill these arseholes.

So, why aren't we out there asking them to leave? We're not sure if they're junkies. We fear what they will do if we ask them to go.

And thanks also to our new squat neighbours and their twilight DIY, we’re starting to miss the quiet empty block of last year already.

UPDATE around 1am: It turned out that these people were partying squatters. The rowdy woman had purple hair.

Pipe up

What's that dull thudding noise? Seriously, am I hearing footsteps above the kitchen ceiling?

No way, is that the sound of pipes moving in the airing cupboard? Moving like someone trying to yank them hastily from their fixings?

Oh, it is. It can't be the neighbours below, whom we know are in the midst of big DIY at the mo; the giveaway is from paint flecks falling downwards from the cupboard ceiling as the pipes are tugged.

A couple of "oi, what the fuck do you think you're doing"s stops it all quickly. A shuffle of fleeing footsteps follows.

Yes, live proof that the scrap metal strippers are here.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Extreme skipping

Is this extreme skipping?


Peering down over our gangway balcony, Kitchen Sink Neighbour and us quietly observe a local Russian junkie, trawling meticulously through the council block trash. He is sifting to the point of almost falling in just to scrape the very dirt from the floor of the bins.

What is he looking for?

Scrap metal to sell for cash.

He's not the only one after scrap. Later, Kitchen Sink Neighbour tells us she overheard the junkie pointing out to a family of Roma which flats were empty in our block.

As scrap metal selling is an ordinary way to make a living in Roma culture, the empties here must seem like a goldmine. But of course, their presence represents a danger to our neighbourhood.

After all, making a living is one thing (and we're not condemning their cultural choices); but complete strangers coming onto your estate and stealing metal out of flats is another. Not just that, but the theft of water pipes usually causes the flooding of properties beneath the flat being stripped, as a ground-floor flat here discovered on Tuesday.

The scrap thieves need to know this block of flats is not empty and that they can't come here. Except, who's to know when they will come.

It seems like our council block never seems to catch a break. The junkie squat finally shuts down and within days the baton of trouble has passed to scrap metal strippers. Not a way to start the weekend.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Atom Tom does Bow Arts

The Londonist has just published my interview with the Bow Arts Trust from almost a month ago. An assignment that peaked my interest straight away, I had the opportunity to interview the Trust's chief executive and one of the resident artists, which turned into an hour-long joyride of the guys just excited to be interviewed. Needless to say, my head was spinning afterwards from it all. A chinook landed beside me at one point, having mistaken me for a fellow helicopter.

It should be noted that at no point during the joyride did I share my housing exploits. Whilst it would've been interesting, at the same time it would have been out of place and unprofessional. I was there to meet them and listen to their ideas and that was all. With many thanks to Lindsey.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Bag of squat air

Never trust a squatter, or anybody in fact, who justifies the solidity of their experiences by quoting time. ie. "I'm an experienced squatter, I've been squatting for nearly four years". Means nothing.

It means nothing, because it gives away nothing about what you've done. It sounds like the kind of puffed-up chest to get the girls but disguise all else. You may have squatted for four years and been a slob the entire time, for example.

Unfortunately for us, we're having to ask our flatmate Rhoderocker to leave, for these very reasons. Leaving his vomit sat in a bucket in our hallway for three weeks last winter was the last straw to add to our haystack of last straws.

On behalf of the squat, I asked him to leave today (with seven days to get out). He couldn't see my reasons why, but he couldn't dispute them either. "In all my four years of squatting, I have never...." -- yeah yeah -- "...been thrown out of a squat". Followed by lots of expletives. All noise and bluster, but I know he will be gone by next week. I know because he knows I know.

So, a tip for the future -- interview your new squatmates with care and give them a trial period in exactly the same way you would if it was a rented house. It shouldn't make a difference because you squat. Squatting doesn't mean you'll get better flatmates, it's still going to be a flatshare/houseshare after all. You should not be coloured by the fact that your (potential) flatmates may share the same interests/ideals as you, ie. all activists/vegans/etc or on "the scene".

Paying rent may encourage "I've paid my rent, I have the right to do whatever" when it comes to how tenants conduct themselves. Interestingly enough, living for free may actually encourage the same. Don't let them get away with the excuse "But it's a squat". You'll live healthier for it.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Going, going, gong

Where were you at 1.50 AM today, Sunday 15 March? Out on the town? In bed, as would be normal at this time of day?

Or living out your blacksmith fantasies in a near derelict council block? Welcome to our world.

Playing only three floors away was the unexpected but eerie sound of serious hammers striking an anvil. Almost like the distorted battering of chapel bells from some off-kilter dream, a hollow shockwave bouncing off your doorstep and the doorstep of every resident trying to get some sleep. It was 1 freaking 50 AM. Didn't people care for the time?

Perhaps it was the perfect time for a murder. Indeed, it was as though someone was trying to beat a gong to death by bashing it repeatedly in the face with a mallet. Nope. It was the Sitex men.

We had forgotten that they were a 24hr service and boy were we being reminded, 20 minutes into their session. Called in to seal up a midnight attempt to open a new squat, it was difficult to determine whether the banging was the work of serious hammers or the workmen being pissed off at having to work a late Saturday night shift.

Either way, it was loud, oppressive and relentless.

Some 40 minutes after, judging by their noisy attempts to yank off the Sitex, the squat openers were back. And within minutes of them came the estate security guards, whom since January had been patrolling the empties, you recognised them immediately by the sound of their manic cranky dogs. Dogs with the kind of starved barking only just too eager to rip open your body, never mind the dogs themselves.

Three floors away might as well have been from inside the hallway.

Pity the squatters confronting them and funnily enough, if it hadn't been for their late night efforts, Sunday morning could just have been that. Pity the rest of us trying to get some sleep.

Am I anti-squatter? Nope, just pro-consideration for other people at all times, and that doesn't change, for anyone.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Chopped Potato : Do-gooders?

The first of many monthly estate squatter meetings begins tonight. Somewhere in the region of 40 people turn up in the squatter fashion sense we have all come to know (ie. nothing colourful or mud-free). A member of the local advisory service chairs and you either endure the heavy tobacco smoke in the room as the meeting unfolds, or step outside to breathe and freeze to death in the blistering evening air.

Following a discussion about electricity, the agenda moves swiftly onto efforts to integrate the squatters with the community. Squatter insecurity, however, seems to be prime motivation.

"We don't pay the rent", says one chap to all, "and so we must do something to make the residents feel better about us." The project to kickstart these 'community relations' is squatter-initiated recycling facilities, "we want to show them a positive image". The suggestion of "squatter PR" comes up, which will involve door-to-door interviews with residents to learn what we can do for them. Guerilla gardening and a free shop are other possible projects.

All very well, until the chair makes a comment that blows the entire thing wide open. "The residents are moving soon, they don't care" she says. Startling. If she'd spoken to the residents in advance, she will find that they do care.

Their estate has after all been in redevelopment limbo for 8 years. Not only have they been plagued with multiple regeneration setbacks, they now find their housing estate crawling with squatters, junkies and drug dealers.

They know more about their estate than we do. They don't need to be patronised or told by a bunch of activists that they know better and squatters don't need the excuse to act like do-gooders. But that's exactly what this meeting seems to be doing.

Instead of generating projects with the idealistic intention of saving the community so the residents will accept squatters, surely a simple hello to your neighbours is enough for the moment? Surely treating this community with a bit of respect is a more organic way forward?

They are regular people after all, who surely don't need the misplaced heroics of their insecure squatting neighbours on top of all else. What do you think?

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Counting

Just How Honest Are You?

Are you happy to admit you're a squatter or do you prefer to lie? That's the question on the lips of squatters tonight, just how honest are you about your activities?

Studies show (admittedly, we've only polled one squatter so far in this study) that caution is the watchword when it comes to sharing your home-loving news. Being a proud squatter is one thing; being introduced to an entire tableful of co-workers in a pub as "our resident squatter" is another.

Atom Tom had this to say, "it was fun to begin with, to 'come out' as a squatter, but it gets tiring after a while. I hated being introduced as the resident squatter. I had no chance to get to know these new people; they just kept asking me squatting questions all night like I was the squat icon or something. They just weren't interested in anything else. Hey, I'm a human being first, alright? I was bored to death of being a squatter that night."

We'd like to hear your views. Email squatpotato@gmail.com tonight and let us know what you'd do... are you happy to admit you're a squatter or do you prefer to lie?

This is Squat Potato, bringing you the X without the e.

No Shithole

Squatting skeptics may like to know that our squat, flat 22, has been doing fine in the months since the attempted police raid in November 2008. We have a fully functioning kitchen and full electricity use throughout the flat, and are slowly converting it into a meditative space to come home to from the city bustle.

The flat has withstood biblical rainfall, abnormal urban snowstorms and vicious winter winds without one leak or wobble and we look forward to entering the Spring with faultless ease. We have also withstood house"mates" who have misinterpreted "squat" to mean "shithole" and the flat has successfully resisted all attempts to be converted into one.

The remaining household has also endured countless false alarms (ie. letters from the council which thankfully aren't eviction papers, continued interest in our Sitex front door) with calmness beyond measure. Squat Potato salutes the men and women involved for their courage.

Flat 22 welcomes the prospect of starting a vegetable garden on our balcony in the weeks to come as well as replacing all of the broken window panes with Perspex.

To those doomsayers and in-a-box thinkers -- your criticism, non-support and belief that we live in a shithole, we dutifully remain.

This has been Squat Potato, the home of jackets, chops and bakes just the way you like it. It is a cool ten degrees Celsius outside tonight. Drive safely.

Later and

New Breed

Reports have been slowly coming in of a 'new breed' of Sitex man, dubbed the stealth Sitex man. The latest local authority weapon against squatters, the stealth Sitex man is able to sneak up on the doorway of a newly opened squat within minutes of its liberation and wall it up in metal without the squatter inside even noticing.

In a story just this week, a squatter whose housemates had gone out to recon a front door only to return to metal sheets nailed across their premises had this to say, "we were astonished, we'd only popped out for half an hour".

Further eyewitness accounts show that no Sitex company van need be present in the parking lot during these "Sitex assaults" and that the stealth Sitex man does not make the audible caveman-hooligan grunting associated with the previous model.

Squatters are to remain extremely vigilant of random flashes of human-shaped lightning at their front door.

This is Squat Potato, 1379 kilojoules of energy per 100g.

Stay Put Luck

Squat Potato reports that staying in continues to be a troublesome spot for all at the squat. In spite of newly formed squat neighbours, home security remains a risk for each individual squat, thanks not only to snooping junkies but sightings of the 'stealth Sitex men', who can board up squats at lightning speed.

In spite of such regular daily threats, the liberated house, flat 22, still awaits the day where staying in can be balanced amongst its housemates.

When Squat Potato asked Atom Tom to comment, he replied, "It's such an integral necessity and yet it's complete bullsh-"

Oh, it appears we have lost transmission.

This is Squat Potato, squatting at the frontline of squatting.

Friday, 27 February 2009

165 days

The news stories, this evening:

Get Fluffy

The new junkie nest that we reported in January and the flat we overheard being smashed up in November are now newly populated "fluffy" squats, as of this week. With empty flat space at a premium now on the estate, the council block we live on remains the most sought-after premises for new squats (last week we had 16 empties). The arrival of three new squats brings the total squatter population here to 12.

With six squats now on site, suggestions have been made for widening contact and interaction between them as well as reaching out to the squats on other council blocks. More news at it happens.

This is Squat Potato, serving you 100% spud without cheese.

Snoopy, (but no Charlie) Brown

In recent weeks, the junkie nest on the first floor of our block has become the centre of serious heroin-loving in the area. Established in November 2008, the empty flat has come to serve many community purposes: a shooting up gallery for junkies, a blight on the environment, and a public nuisance for everyone who lives in the council block.

We have nightly earwitness reports of high customer volume at between 2 to 3 in the morning on most nights of the week, and eyewitness accounts this week of vein usage hitting an all-time low; the term 'going for the jugular' has taken on a whole new dimension in recent days.

On a slightly different note, word has it tonight that a whole other set of junkies have been snooping around the council block, casing flats that can be broken into for valuables to feed their habit. Kitchen Sink Neighbour has spotted this group taking a particular interest in our squat only this Thursday evening.

As a result, every flat here is now on high alert. Security advice has included checking to make sure coal chutes are sealed and ensuring squats are suitably manned in the evenings.

Otherwise it is bedtime with crowbars and chisels for all.

For up-to-the-minute live reports on junkies, Squat Potato recommends you visit the council block on Friday nights, where you can watch live action unfolding between plain clothes police and heroin lovers on the gangways and stairwells.

This is Squat Potato, no animal or mineral, just pure edible.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Chopped Potato : Emptied

Astonished that empty council properties are being smashed up and made uninhabitable whilst there are homeless about? Shocked when you witness flat smashing firsthand, the homes of former tenants ripped out and thrown into lorries? My block of flats currently has 13 empties in it, perfectly good flats standing empty.

The Londonist did some research back in June 2008 into the number of empty properties per borough and were astonished by it as much as anyone else. Lambeth at the time had 845, Hackney had 1051 empties in 2007 and Southwark 1300. You can read about what they have to say here. Drop by the Empty Homes Agency site for more intel.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Jacket Potato

More useful reading, this time related to the housing market.

Shelter's current ad campaign reports that 200 homes are being repossessed a week. Their website offers housing advice in relation to eviction, repossession and homelessness, and is currently highlighting the changing housing market with their film "House of Cards".

Is this squatting or is it still paying rent? Dutch company Camelot perhaps straddles the two. In exchange for a low rent, Camelot tenants have the chance to live in a variety of empty properties (ie, mansions, office blocks); but at the same time, they must also protect the site from, uh, squatters. Some argue that Camelot is "privatising squatting", that if you want to squat, squat. Others argue that squatting isn't as straightforward to initiate as you think (or easy), and that Camelot provides a halfway. Make up your own mind here and here.

Annoyed there are empty properties in your city and yet so many homeless people? The Empty Homes Agency feels for you. They have done the math: there are 783,730 empty homes in England right now. Highlighting the waste of empty property, the Agency works with other bodies to campaign for their reuse. Check out what they have to say.

Derelict London is a photographic site documenting many of London's derelict and empty spaces. Useful for squatters, perhaps? The New Statesman comments that the site "seems to trace the skeleton of a dead city while it is still in apparently rude health".

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Is that the way to do it?

Emptying council estates being reclaimed as short-term rented properties for professional artists?

Poplar HARCA and the Bow Arts Trust seem to think so.

Many of east London's council estates due for redevelopment are facing regeneration limbo at the moment, thanks to bankrupt local authorities and the laborious planning process they were already enduring. The absence of rebuild news has left council estates scarred with boarded-up flats and their communities broken and confused.

In the case of the Bow Arts Trust, Poplar HARCA has agreed to hand them the most derelict flats on their estates, which are in turn rented by professional artists who convert them into short-term livable home/studio spaces. This arrangement ensures that estates are populated (and kept out of the hands of squatters) up until demolition time comes.

I had the opportunity today to meet the chief executive of the Bow Arts Trust and one of the artists, a graduate from Slade, to discuss the project. Our energetic conversation took place on the 24th floor of Balfron Tower (see photo below), whose sister building you might recognise as the Trellick in Notting Hill, and is one of the estates up for redevelopment in 3-4 years' time (in this case, refurbishment rather than demolition).


During our two hours together, we discussed all manner of project value, not only to the existing residents and the local community but also to the future economy and the prospect of creating London's first arts quarter. My interview for the Londonist will be posted here shortly, but you can probably tell I am rather taken with this project.

Think about it: the possibility of paying an affordable rent and live/work as a creative person without the compromises that ludicrous amounts of rent creates; and without having to squat in order to survive this city. I'm in favour of that. Could this project be a bridge between rent paying and squatting? If so, is this the way to do it?

Friday, 13 February 2009

Make shift

Alley-surfed furniture is one thing -- and definitely something that continually amazes us as to how many fixable and in-good-nick items are left out in the street. But making your own furniture from random resources lying about in your own home? This is definitely exciting territory.

Responding to my request for his expertise in building a desk, our friend Italianarchitect popped by today to begin the job. Combining the doors of an unused MDF-made wardrobe that we had dumped in the living room with a gorgeous piece of painted wood as raw material, we worked together with saws and a cordless drill to create this:


Solid, sturdy and just fantastic to look at and use. The first of many furniture-building adventures in the squat, we hope.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Squatdoyouthink, 4 : Myriam

What motivates an artist to show their work in a squat gallery rather than a gallery gallery? I caught up with Myriam, one of the exhibiting artists at Section6's recent show, for her thoughts.

How did you come to be involved with Section6?

I was looking for opportunities to exhibit my paintings and came across the artist/theatre section on Gumtree where I saw Section6's call for work, in particular asking artists if they would like to exhibit in a disused space. I sent them a couple of photos of my paintings and everything went from there.

Why exhibit in a squat than, say, a gallery?

Exhibiting in a squatted space gives you freedom to do what you want with it. There are no restrictions or anyone who tells you what is possible and what is not. You are independent from "art trends", the selection processes from galleries and curators and what the mainstream public wants. Of course there are a wide variety of galleries here in London, but unless you are lucky enough to have an exhibition opportunity or pay a decent amount of money, it isn't easy to get your art out there.

Another factor is that we can attract people who may not be inclined towards art because of those restrictions I mentioned. There are no stiff boundaries when you see art in a squat as opposed to commercial gallery spaces.

Are you also squatting yourself?

I used to live in squats in Germany many years ago, but I am renting now in London. The thought of squatting again has crossed my mind, thanks to the unbelievably high rents in this city. Studio or workshop places are also way too expensive and the waiting lists for affordable spaces are endless.

What is your definition of squatting?

Squatting means the reclaiming of unused spaces and remaking their use in a positive way. I think using them as temporary art spaces, for example, is a great way of doing this.

Where else have you shown?

Section6 was my second exhibition. Before that, I was involved in a group exhibition in a London gallery.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am originally from Germany and was living in New Zealand for three years, before moving to London in 2007 to study fine art. Painting is my favourite medium and I consider myself as an intuitive painter. Most of my works are painted in abstract terms and I see them as representations of people's fears, nightmares and their "hidden darker side". I am currently living in east London.



For more information about Myriam's work, please check out her Myspace page.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Squatdoyouthink, 3 : Section6

The following interview is with Georgina, one of the founders of the squat gallery, Section6.

What is your definition of squatting?

Occupying a space that has been left to disuse and abandonment and bringing it back to life by utilising its potential.

How did you find the disused flat that Section6 operates from?

We found out about the flat through a friend who was living in the block.

Why use a disused flat than, say, a gallery?

After working for numerous galleries and art projects, I began to find traditional white cube spaces too predictable and sterile. I thought that creating a project within an unusual setting would add something different to the concept of displaying art.

Also with showing and making art not being easy on the pocket, I felt that it would take the pressure off finances and allow for more concentration on the art work itself.

Do you also squat yourself?

No, but I would really like to.

Would you consider living in a squat and also using it as an arts space?

Yes, definitely. I find the space where we have the art project to be a place to escape to from the outside world. We also have a good community living in our block; there are meetings and even a café and shop in development with the other residents. I would love to live in and run an art space simultaneously, but I want to make sure that I do it at the right time when I am fully ready for the challenge. I know that it isn’t all fun and games and that it is a serious decision to make.

Were you aware of the legal situation before you broke in?

We were aware of the laws around squatting. We discovered behind the Sitex that the front door was open, so all we had to do was change the lock, secure the property and put up the Section 6. The squatters rights website has been a huge help but we have also received a lot of advice from the other residents which is great.

In terms of the squat, what has been the biggest achievement so far?

I think the biggest achievement is setting up Section6 Art Projects and having the first show. It was positive to see that all our hard work had paid off by having a maximum capacity crowd attend the private view. It was nice to hear people say how much they loved it and how they had thought of doing something similar in the past but had never had the motivation to do it.

It was also great to have the seal of approval from the other residents who quite enjoy the thought of having a gallery onsite. It has been nice that we have inspired a lot of people, which definitely makes the project worthwhile.

And the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was making sure that people saw the project, as it is a little off the beaten track compared to other art spaces. That was a little worrying but it all turned out really well.

What do you most fear for your gallery?

At the beginning, I feared things that were not really a threat as I didn’t know as much about squatting as I do now; I think it was just fear of the unknown. Also having to move on that was a fear at first, but now it is just the start of the adventure and when we have to move, we will just find another space and carry on.

How are relations with the neighbours and squatters?

On the night of our show there was a lady (I don’t know if she lived near by or what) who she took it upon herself to stand across the road and tell all our visitors that we weren’t nice people and that we did drugs. I found it quite funny as it obviously wasn’t true and we had never met her.

It makes me laugh that people can be so ignorant and put people into categories and attach stereotypes to them without even meeting them. If she had taking the time to come in enjoy the artwork have a drink and talk to us, she would have seen how wrong she was.

How do you keep watch on the gallery if you don't live there?

We have a rota so that someone is there all the time so that the space is kept safe.

For more information about Section6, please check out their Myspace page.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Squa(rt)?

A squat opened exclusively for a gallery? Section6 seems to think so. A not-for-profit organisation founded by two art graduates, Section6 puts together exhibitions in reclaimed spaces, with the aim of uniting art with the everyday world.

Here are some photographs from their opening night tonight.





Certainly is an interesting take. Questions that spring to mind: would the general public find squatting more acceptable if squats housed art instead of people? Would you even call an art gallery squat squatting?