Freedom News

Squats opened around the UK on National Day of Housing Action

On Saturday the 8th of July housing campaigns across the UK engaged in a series of decentralised actions under the slogan “Housing For Need Not Greed”. The actions of the Housing Rebellion, as it was called, were primarily focused around council estates facing the issue of “regeneration” (read: gentrification), but included neighbourhoods fighting their councils for green space, and putting the spotlight on the fact that the struggle for housing is inescapably tied to the issue of climate change.

Some of us, squatters from the local area, took part in the Southwark march that led us through the corpse of the Heygate Estate, now known as the beyond-hip Elephant Park, where we would be surprised to learn if any original resident of the estate has ever returned, or ever plans to. Southwark Notes has some great information on the displacement of residents despite promises of being able to return during initial consultations. 100 people marched, drums banging, voices raised, banners condemning the council and developers alike. Banners that went beyond a simple understanding of the situation of the Heygate or Aylesbury but to condemn a capitalist understanding of property and that hoped to spur into action those who see possibility beyond reform. In conjunction, the offices of Notting Hill Genesis were paintbombed and graffiti expressing righteous anger adorned the hoardings of the ongoing con(de)struction.

As the march approached its endpoint, the Aylesbury Estate, the focal point of ongoing struggle against regeneration in Southwark, the crowd met in front of the Thurlow Lodge Community Hall at the base of Wendover House. Wendover is one of the many blocks within the sprawling Aylesbury Estate, and next of the list to be demolished as part of the second phase of destruction in the Aylesbury regeneration plan that has been resisted for 2 decades now. Living in Wendover is our friend Aysen, a resident who has been fighting Southwark Council since the beginning, and who hosted recently in her own flat a month-long exhibition highlighting the struggle for the Aylesbury and all who live in it, including the occupation in 2015 that some of us were part of and made life-long connections in.

As the speeches were in full-flight, we were able to wind up the shutters and throw open the doors of the Thurlow Lodge, inviting all who had participated in the demo to come in and reclaim the now-squatted space. It was only a few years ago that some of us had been attending meetings in Thurlow Lodge with residents of the Aylesbury, planning our fight against the council. No doubt in backlash to a space they owned being used against them, the council had closed it down and removed access to local tenants and leaseholders.

The space was bright and clean, not so long ago. What we found inside was “managed disrepair”. Piles of the remnants of the community centre left rotting over these last few years. The kitchen had had the water left on, the floor flooded and mould growing on furniture. There’s no conclusion to draw other than to say this is intentional neglect from the council as part of their plan to make the estate undesirable to live in, forcing the hand of the few remaining residents to allow them to continue their regeneration project. It is a common tactic when trying to destroy a community such as an estate. Take away the communal spaces, the places in which people communicate and organise. As people become more individualised, so they become less aware of their collective power, and are less resistant to (or less capable of resisting) the incoming change. But the space is not totally without merit. The building is secure. Meetings may once again take place here. In any case it is an assertion of autonomy to show that actions with like these that, just because they take these spaces and hide them behind shutters, behind sheet metal and other such security devices, they can not stop us from deciding what is best for us as the people who are affected. Squatters and tenants, and all forms of precariously-housed or unhoused peoples, we must maintain a strength that can only be found in association and mutual support.

The war rages on,

League of Squatters Eviction Resistance and Solidarity (L.O.S.E.R.S.)

p.s. At the time of writing we were just informed of the actions of residents of the Lesnes estate, in Abbey Wood, Thamesmead. The residents of Lesnes have been fighting to prevent their displacement, much like those of the Aylesbury. Previously they had discussed the idea of squatting the estate in order to preserve it. On Saturday as part of the day of action they took over and went into occupation of a 3-bedroom house on the estate. One that had been sealed up by Peabody as part of the ongoing decanting of tenants, be they ASTs, temporarily-accommodated council tenants, or even leaseholders. No-one is safe in the face of the relationship between developers and property. The squatted house will be open for the next few days as an organising space for local residents and supporters in the area. Much like the Aylesbury takeover of Thurlow Lodge, it demonstrates a capability to resist, an assertion of our self-determination. It can happen, it will happen. Again, and again if necessary. No one day is enough, but the actions we take and the relationships we build will only serve to empower people further toward ridding themselves of these exploiters, manipulators, parasites. Scumbags the lot of them.

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