Recently in Londonist (one of my favourite blogs about most aspects of life in London for curious & interested people) and subsequently in other shards of the mainstream media I read about the “£22m squatters” – the story being that a group of squatters who had previously occupied a house in one of London’s more exclusive areas worth about £6 million had been evicted, and they’d found themselves better digs at a larger place around the corner that’s valued at £22 million. Needless to say, it’s gotten all sorts of people frothing at the mouth, as well as producing all sorts of rational-sounding counter arguments as to why them being in there is a good thing. I should stress that this is a different group of Mayfair squatters to the hippies who have moved into the Duke of Westmiinster’s properties at 94 & 95 Park Lane (suitably frothy Daily Mail piece here). As an aside about the Daily Heil: I’ve really not figured out what their slant on things is… I thought they stood on the side of the working class man agaiinst the privileged rich, but I suppose that includes the freeloading poor as well. The Times piece indicated that many of the squatters come from wealthy and educated backgrounds, so I can only theorise that maybe the reason for the Mail’s venom is that they’re pissed they didn’t think of it first.
Apparently the “collective” think they’re doing the owners of the building a service, as the place has stood vacant for the past 2 years while the owners attempt to get planning permission for various alterations. So in the meantime the squatters are fixing leaks and claiming to stop a lot of the deterioration which is taking place. In the meantime, they’re running various classes for interested parties under the banner of The Temporary School of Thought – there’s a wide-ranging timetable including such topics as a lecture on “Why You Can’t Teach What You Need to Learn”, “Comparative Religion & Mysticism talk with Vinay”, and the gripping “Vyvian Raoul types out Hunter S Thompson’s Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas on an old Olivetti Valentine…” (24 hour performance). I think a previous week’s programme included the eminently practical art of “labyrinth building”.
It all sounds rather amusing, and like a bit of good fun really. Despite it being wildly unpopular usually with the owners of property, squatting isn’t actually illegal and so for anyone with enough balls to give it a go and who doesn’t mind getting moved on occasionally I can see the lure of wanting to live in an (albeit somewhat faded) aging yet palatial Georgian Grade II listed building, featuring hand-painted Chinese wallpaper, ballrooms, and lots of walls to draw all over as hippies invariably do.
I suppose the one thing that put me off the whole idea then was the inevitable tediousness of having to listen to some bird wittering on about it being a collective of non-hierarchical knowledge-sharing in this amazing space which they’re sharing an making available.
Actually I can feel a bit of a Mail-esque froth coming on now – from the Wikipedia entry on Squatting:
In England and Wales, the term ‘squatting’ usually refers to occupying an empty house in a city. The owner of the house must go through various legal proceedings before evicting squatters. Squatting is regarded in law as a civil, not a criminal, matter. However, if there is evidence of forced entry then this is regarded as criminal damage and the police have the powers to remove the occupants. If the squatter legally occupies the house, then the owner must prove in court that they have a right to live in the property and that the squatter does not, while the squatter has the opportunity to claim there is not sufficient proof or that the proper legal steps have not been taken. In order to occupy a house legally, a squatter must have exclusive access to that property, that is, be able to open and lock an entrance. The property should be secure in the same way as a normal residence, with no broken windows or locks.
The article then talks about the first records of squatting in England in 1649. This probably wholly explains my mum’s ever-present paranoia that she’s left the house without locking the front door – it’s clearly an evolutionary thing, as one of our ancestors must’ve lost a property due to squatters moving in. I was equally interested to read that in Scotland it is a criminal offence to occupy someone else’s house, and the landowner has the right to eject squatters without notice via any lawful means they choose. In the meantime these pillocks have got somewhere to stay until the company that owns the building can come up with enough documented proof to please the court that they in fact are the owners.
Tip for young players – if you buy a mansion worth £22 million, it may be an idea to remember where you’ve put the receipt. In the meantime, perhaps I should have a word with my learned colleague Paul about an alternative technique for acquiring the building which we’ve got earmarked to be our new Headquarters. Sneaking in an open window sounds like a lot less hassle than digging up £4.5 million.