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?