- Tower Hamlets
Squatters from the Mare Street community centre, a Grade II listed building which served the local Hackney community for nearly two years, have been evicted. The building is expected to be converted, to make way for private flats.
The former owner of the property, who had agreed that the squatters could remain in the building until it was converted, was forced to go into liquidation six months ago.
Allied Dunbar, the bank dealing with the receivership proceeded to serve the squatters with an eviction notice and removed them from the building last week.
Geoff King, the former property manager said, “the occupiers were keeping it safe and secure, we had an agreement that they could stay until the property was about to be redeveloped, but the bank has not kept that agreement.”
He said the bank had cited health and safety regulations as the reason to evict the squatters, as the property was unfit for habitation. Although the building now has two full time live-in security.
“I was not retained by the bank to continue my role as property manager,” added King, “so I can’t comment on what has happened now, but the [squatters] respected the building and looked after it.”
Although the majority of the squatters had left the building, bailiffs came overnight last week and used a chainsaw to break through the front door to evict the remaining residents.
According to eyewitness accounts, there were only five people in the building when around 30 bailiffs and police came round, they used battering rams on the door, and smashed two of the listed windows.
“The first thing they did was to rip up our vegetable garden, and cut off the water” said one of the squatters, ”they’ve now installed a temporary toilet outside despite the fact we had seven working toilets in the building.”
The community centre regularly held free classes for local people, offered free exhibition space and had a community garden.
An anonymous post on the Hackney Gazette web site reads: “Am Happy to Say [sic] I shut this place down this morning and moved out the Squatters, giving this wonderful building back to its rightful owners.”
Although the building is in desperate need of restoration, and permission has been granted to make improvements on the building, restoration has not yet begun.
The property was once a rehabilitation centre for female ex-convicts, founded in 1849 in memory of penal-reformer Elizabeth Fry.
It became a working men’s club, known as The Lansdowne Social Club, which closed in 2000, then it was left empty for eight years before squatters took it over and made improvements in the summer of 2009. The basement, a kitchen with original working features will be sealed off when the flats are built.
Barley Massey, a local resident and business owner said: “I thought the were an organised group, they seemed to be doing positive things for the area.”
Nick White, a regular visitor to the squatted property said: ”It was a really fun, active, vibrant space, with loads going on. Everyone was there for their own reasons, but they were all really committed to making a useful shared space for the local community.”
As the Hackney housing crisis continues, squatting is becoming a temporary solution to the lack of affordable homes, but like the Mare Street squat, the residents are often forced into homelessness at very short notice, see our housing week blogs for more on the housing crisis in Hackney.