Sunday, 29 March 2009


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?