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The coalition government has launched a ferocious war on squatting. In September 2012 a law was passed to criminalise squatting in residential buildings. Aside from the sometimes fatal implications (as was the case with the death of Daniel Gauntlett) the new law disregards the extraordinary contributions to British culture – check out the achievements of Bristol’s ArtSpace Lifespace and Peckham’s Lyndhurst Way.
The latest example of squatters fighting for their right to shelter is occuring at the Hart Gallery on London’s Islington Upper Street. As the gallery is a commercial property the squatters have successfully avoided eviction, and to mark this, Dazed celebrates our top ten most defiant squats, from 70s gay lib to 00s art parties.
THE SOUTH LONDON GAY COMMUNITY CENTRE, BRIXTON
In 1974 a squat formed on 78 Railton Road, Brixton. This squat offered a communal space for individuals wishing to openly express their gay identity. It was a haven for gay people from all walks of life to unite in social activity and political action. Railton Road became a hub of activity for those wishing to challenge social injustice. It boasted two women’s groups, an Anarchist News service, a union for people on welfare benefits and Icebreakers (a gay liberation counselling group). The squats were eventually swallowed by the Brixton Housing Co-op in early 80s.
EILEEN HOUSE, LONDON
The Self Organised London collective began occupying this former university building to fight the “gentrification” and “social cleansing” of the area. The squatters sought to prevent the redevelopment of the building into luxury flats. In spite of a petition with 50,000 signatures and a campaign spearheaded by the nearby Ministry of Sound, planning permission was accepted by the Mayor in December 2013 to construct a 41-storey tower on the site.
AGNES SQUAT, LONDON
The Victorian terrace began its life as a squat in 1969. The council bought properties with the aim of tearing them down and extending Kennington Park. After the council’s plans were scuppered, the houses were left to the squatters to rebuild. It wasn’t until 2005 that Lambeth Council was successful in removing the squatters. It took 200 riot police and bailiffs to get rid of the residents. The only property that survived was a Rastafarian temple, said to have been visited by Bob Marley in the 70s. The temple was also eventually closed in 2007 after supposedly being taken over by drug dealers.
GROW HEATHROW, LONDON
Grow Heathrow evolved out of a desire to prevent the construction of Heathrow’s third runway. The occupiers have taken over the former site of an illegal car breaking yard. From this focal point a community has blossomed that lives without dependence on fossil fuels. In spite of the imminent threat of eviction, Grow Heathrow continues its peaceful occupation.
The art collective kick started in Peckham in the early noughties as the result of a surge in numbers of art graduates without employment.“After I left college I lost my job and decided I didn’t want to pay rent anymore,” says former Camberwell graduate and artist, Matthew Stone.“So I researched it and start squatting in Peckham with my friend James Balmforth. That’s how !Wowow! began.”The !WowoW! movement helped to launch the careers of Stone, fellow artist Balmforth, fashion designer Gareth Pugh, and video artist Adam Faramawy.
BITCOIN SQUAT, LONDON
In a former Buddhist temple in London the creators of the Bitcoin movement reside. The crypto-anarchic, enigmatic movement is using radical technology to topple the role of government and banks in our financial affairs. This hacking fraternity is cloaked in secrecy. Only the hacker name of the creator – Satoshi Nakamoto – is widely known.
PARK LANE, LONDON
In 2009 a group of squatters with expensive taste moved into two seven storey houses on Park Lane, each worth £15 million. The houses boasted views of Hyde Park and the chance to rub shoulders with the oligarchs and Sheikhs of Mayfair. A group of 30 artists, students and musicians inhabited the buildings, even having their own keys cut, until sledge hammer yielding bailiffs turned them out.
CLIFTON WOOD HOUSE, BRISTOL
After weeks of camping out on a public green on behalf of the Occupy movement, these squatters decided it was time to move up in the world. The protestors found an abode in a property that was once Bristol’s most expensive house. The empty £3 million, 8 bedroom dwelling is located in Bristol’s most affluent area and comes complete with indoor swimming pool. The inhabitants were eventually kicked out by the police, much to the delight of hostile local residents.
HOBO HILTON, LONDON
In 2012 50 activists occupied an abandoned BT building in High Holborn and christened the space ‘Hobo Hilton’. Contrary to its name, Hobo Hilton was not set up as a residency for homeless people. As part of the Occupy movement Hobo Hilton offered a space for education, creativity and revolutionary group work. Participants included Green Peace and key figures from the Bitcoin movement. The group was conveniently evicted on the eve of a 100,000 strong anti-cuts demonstration.
THE REALLY FREE SCHOOL, LONDON
The Really Free School set itself up in Guy Ritchie’s £6 million home on London’s Fitzroy Square. Dubbed the ‘middle class squat squad’, the group aimed to re-imagine Gove’s free schools and provide ‘a collective learning process directed by your own desires’. Lessons on offer included ‘Spanish for activists’ and ‘Skill up on tax havens’. They were reluctantly evicted after losing their court battle, while wearing Vinnie Jones masks.