Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Squatting in the Square

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  • Craig Ranapia,

    By the time I got there, most of the best places, the big terraces, had gone, but I did live for a while at 70 Bonnington Square, Vauxhall, surrounded by a quirky community in which New Zealanders were heavily represented.

    It’s fascinating, also, how the social geography of cities change over time. A friend of my parents re-visited London for what she called her fairwell tour, and I remember her wistfully saying “If I was doing it all over again, I couldn’t afford a decent night out in Notting Hill let alone a flat.”

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    successfully hanging a door

    Doors are HARD.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4449 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Ram,

    Ohh, that's right, Bonnington Square was quite flash back then.

    Here's my first squat looking smart right now. http://ow.ly/py3nD .

    And a look back http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/video/2013/aug/02/alex-wheatle-gentrification-brixton-video

    Since Mar 2008 • 20 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    We lived, for some months in the 1980s, through a London winter in a squat adjacent to the Lambeth Walk. I had romantic notions of the place (...doing the Lambeth Walk) but , god, it was a dismal place. Corrugated iron everywhere, grills that slammed shut on the few sad shops at 5pm, general despair pervading..

    I had a short-term research position with the BFI, stationed with the Independent Broadcasting Authority right opposite Harrods (used to go across Old Brompton Road for lunch and spend as little as possible). We were saving for a fare home, so stayed in a squat which had been made liveable by Martin Lodge, the music academic. Apparently his father was a plumber or builder or such.

    Now my son spends heaps for a room in a tiny flat in South London.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2537 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    We lived, for some months in the 1980s, through a London winter in a squat adjacent to the Lambeth Walk. I had romantic notions of the place (…doing the Lambeth Walk) but , god, it was a dismal place. Corrugated iron everywhere, grills that slammed shut on the few sad shops at 5pm, general despair pervading..

    Yes. There were a lot of places that were pretty bleak in the 80s. That made the Square all the better -- people pulled together. The squatter's cafe could be hired for something like £3 and we used it for expat Christmas parties a couple of years running. The chefs were Sue and Janis, who went on to found Cafe Astoria and other places on their return to Wellington.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Tim Michie,

    For those that are wondering what'sthisallaboutthen, I suggest Ken Loach's Riff Raff (1991 so imdb informs me).

    Auckward • Since Nov 2006 • 614 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Curtis,

    Heres a 4 bedr terrace house for sale in Fentiman Rd SW8- a few streets from Bonnington Squre
    http://www.zoopla.co.uk/for-sale/details/30220590?search_identifier=bca5ae4f6e188f9bc3b17c28344fc8e1

    Only a cool 1.8 mill - pounds

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 314 posts Report Reply

  • phil a,

    I squatted in 4 different areas of London between from 1991 to 1993. It was a lot easier moving into a squat, than breaking in & setting one up ;-)

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • andrew r,

    Lovely little doco. Special times we all had in B square. Amazing times.

    auckland • Since May 2007 • 99 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to phil a,

    I squatted in 4 different areas of London between from 1991 to 1993. It was a lot easier moving into a squat, than breaking in & setting one up ;-)

    Sure was. But I found what really put me off in the end was having possessions. It was one thing having to move when you could carry your stuff in a cab -- quite another when you had more than that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Steve Curtis,

    Heres a 4 bedr terrace house for sale in Fentiman Rd SW8- a few streets from Bonnington Squre

    Fentiman Road was (and still is) an odd phenomenon. Even though it was bounded by council estates (and 400 metres from one really scary one), it was the place for ambitious young Tory ministers to buy. After Bonnington Square, I lived in a really sweet council squat that bordered Fentiman. I'd cheerfully have stayed there, were it possible.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Hebe,

    Great video. What an amazing place those people have created among the Lambeth grime.

    Christchurch • Since May 2011 • 2895 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin,

    Interesting link. While squatting is still very much a thing here I don't think it is particularly common anymore amongst the expats, whereas doss houses/room/bed sharing are very much are for people over on working holidays anyway (as opposed to longer stays). But I sort of wish it was sometimes, when I pay my rent (about $1500 a month to share a house with two others in zone 3) and when I saw that house prices in the suburb are just shy of half a million pounds (and going up month by month).

    Edit

    Here is a great link to photos of derelict London housing

    http://www.derelictlondon.com/houses.html

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1019 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Chiles, in reply to Richard Ram,

    That is the first squat I lived at in London, 1989 I think. I didn't stay long and ended up on a semi squatted estate in north London. I have lived in squats in Amsterdam, Berlin, Northern Italy, Spain and visited many others in countries throughout Europe. It is a really good scene to be involved in and is very creative. I have worked on many parties and festivals at squats and the DIY ethos is inspiring. I wish we had a similar thing going on here in N.Z, it is something I really miss from my many years in Europe.

    Waikanae • Since Oct 2013 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • Alistair Oldham,

    Nice to see the Bonnington Square film generating a bit of discussion on the other side of the world ! l lived there for five years back in the early eighties and had always wanted to make a film about it but had never quite figured out how to do it. In the end I pretty much made it out of 600 scanned still images and stitched them all together into some kind of narrative. But it was interesting as well because a bit of me really hated the depressing grimness of London at that time (including the political correctness of the Square), though I don't really show that in the film and instead chose to dwell on all the positives ( community / experimenting with social ideas / taking ownership of derelict spaces / urban gardening / setting up cafes etc) because I think they are still pretty inspirational, and were certainly way ahead of their time. Anyway I could go on for ages ..... and by the way, Bristol is a much better option than London these days ( not necessarily for squatting but just for lifestyle / affordability / culture / environment and so on).

    Bristol, UK • Since Oct 2013 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Glyn,

    Nice one Russell. I did the squatting thing for some years in North London (Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington, 89 to 95) and was involved in setting up Squall magazine, which did a lot of things to keep awareness going, stall the Criminal Justice Bill 1994 and supported the free festival and rave scene. NZ seemed like paradise in comparison when I arrived here! Many (not all) Brits have to go thru quite a stretch to 'get on the ladder', though the housing association situation there is way better than here. Interesting that most of the non-govt social housing groups in London were founded by squatters in the 60s/70s, and there is a tradition going way back of course, including many returning servicemen having to squat in bombed out London after 1945 cos there was literally nowhere else to go.

    I once did a BBC radio piece on the influence of squatting on rock and pop music. The list of famous rock musicians who have squatted is unbelievable...most of them would rather not talk it about these days old chap! If house prices carry on as they are in AKL I'm sure we will find instances of squatting, but 'living in the garage' is the unseen Kiwi version of squatting isn't it?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2007 • 12 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Alistair Oldham,

    But it was interesting as well because a bit of me really hated the depressing grimness of London at that time (including the political correctness of the Square)

    I didn't really strike that there, perhaps because i was later on the scene. Although, tbh, we were all a bit more PC back then ...

    Thanks for swinging by, Alistair.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Alistair Oldham,

    Russell, I just noticed you wrote that you lived at 70 Bonnington Square .... guess what, I was your neighbour at no 69 Bonnington Square ! I was there from about 1982 to 1987, before heading off to NZ, where I ended up in a commune about 25 km south of Motueka for a couple of years. Small world .....

    Bristol, UK • Since Oct 2013 • 6 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Alistair Oldham,

    Russell, I just noticed you wrote that you lived at 70 Bonnington Square …. guess what, I was your neighbour at no 69 Bonnington Square ! I was there from about 1982 to 1987

    Ah! Pauline McCoy was kind enough to let me have a room at 70 when one came up in 1987. It was a nice house by then. Before that I was a frequent visitor to no 62, which was another Kiwi household. (Residents there included Brigitte Unwin, who went on to found Piko wholefoods in Christchurch.)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Ben Austin,

    Here is a great link to photos of derelict London housing

    Wow. I see that includes Heygate, the huge block opposite Rockingham Estate, where I lived in Elephant & Castle. It’s interesting the way the old estates have lasted longer than some of the modernist edifices – although I gather dear old Rockingham is finally due to be bowled this year.

    There’s a Flickr set with photos of both.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

  • Euripides Pants,

    I used to look out my window at this building - lived there from 1993 to 98. I was on the 4th floor of a building exactly like the one pictured and paid 2 pounds a week rent until I got a job. Then it went up to 60 pounds.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_clarke/4546152091/in/set-72157623918207078

    Since Aug 2013 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Rockingham Estate, where I lived in Elephant & Castle. It’s interesting the way the old estates have lasted longer than some of the modernist edifices

    Innit. Rockingham was a good place to live - those blocks are solidly built to last No real problems with damp, leaks, mould etc. The style gives them a sort of architectural 'warmth'. Never any real trouble or 'vibes' when wandering around.

    The later estates, though: Aylesbury, Heygate.....'a neo-brutalist architectural aesthetic' as wiki puts it.

    If you haven't seen it, I recommend the BBC series 'the secret history of our streets', and ep1 in particular. A case study in how to destroy communities thanks to an intractable vision of utopian living that bears no relation to reality.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Bruce Wurr,

    I think one of the main reasons this has come about is that there has been a prevalence in the last 7 years (in London in particular) of people going away on holiday and coming back to find their house occupied by small gangs who targeted such homes.....at least there were a number of press stories about this in the past few years. There was even one case where someone had gone to the shops and come back to find their house had been taken over.

    When they do get their house back it's been trashed.

    No doubt the rule is a sledgehammer to cover all cases unfortunately, but there did seem to be some justification at the time

    Auckland • Since Dec 2006 • 97 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Russell Brown,

    (Residents there included Brigitte Unwin, who went on
    to found Piko Wholefoods in Christchurch.)

    Was she there well before you were?
    Piko was started in 1979... (March 4th)
    by a co-operative formed by the Otakaro Land Trust
    Rod Donald was very instrumental in this... Not to say that Brigitte wasn't as equally involved, just sayin'...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7866 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rich Lock,

    Innit. Rockingham was a good place to live – those blocks are solidly built to last No real problems with damp, leaks, mould etc. The style gives them a sort of architectural ‘warmth’. Never any real trouble or ‘vibes’ when wandering around.

    They were very solid. The only bad vibes I recall were around one pub where a lot of Northern Irish drank. That was one to avoid. But it seems in more recent years there have been problems with a spate of knife crime.

    The later estates, though: Aylesbury, Heygate…..’a neo-brutalist architectural aesthetic’ as wiki puts it.

    The ones we regarded as scary at the time were the two Wendover blocks (Big and Little Wendover) further up the road in Peckham. I did not envy the people required to live there. The high concrete walkways were a public safety disaster.

    If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the BBC series ‘the secret history of our streets’, and ep1 in particular. A case study in how to destroy communities thanks to an intractable vision of utopian living that bears no relation to reality.

    Thanks for the tip. As you say, the Le Corbusier-dictated brutalist blocks were a disaster that blighted generations.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22724 posts Report Reply

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