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 "VoK├╝", short for Volksk├╝che, 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.


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).