Saturday, 28 February 2009


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 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 cafĂ© 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


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?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Chopped Potato : Stand by your land

So you're squatting, but where do you stand legally?

This is what the UK law has to say on the matter.

Protection for the occupier

1. Occupation of property without prior consent of the owner, is not a criminal offence, and there is no automatic right for the owner to use violence or threats, to regain entrance or to evict the resident occupier.

2. The Police have no powers over such a civil dispute.

3. The Police are obliged to stop any unlawful eviction that may cause a breach of the peace.

Resources for the displaced occupier ('displaced residential occupier')

Under The Criminal Law Act 1997 as amended and the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. You may have the status of ‘a displaced residential occupier’.

As such you may apply to a Justice of the peace or Commissioner for Oaths for an order to allow you to enter the premises to evict. The previous occupiers will then be committing an offence should they not leave at your request. At this point you may ask for Police assistance.

The Police have powers under the above Acts, in order to keep the peace, to arrest any person who fails to comply with an Order obtained by 'a displaced residential occupier'.

Resources for an intended occupier ('protected intending occupier')

Under the above Acts, where you have obtained a contract to occupy the premises but have not yet done so, you may obtain the status of ‘a protected intending occupier’.

Where there is evidence that the intended occupation is not arranged to deprive the present occupiers of their home, you may be granted an order to evict the resident occupiers.

This status does not give you the right to forcibly enter the premises

"Displaced residential occupier" is the legislation which allows the police to go and evict squatters who squat a non-empty home.