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... 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 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 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.