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Easter Resurrection for Squatted Tourist Info Centre in Hebden Bridge

A.Local | 14.04.2004 12:12 | Free Spaces

Local residents who took over a former Council building in West Yorkshire for five days over Easter have declared the occupation a resounding success. The residents occupied the former Tourist Information Centre in the Pennine town of Hebden Bridge.

The building has been handed to a developer by Calderdale Council.
The occupiers said they wanted to highlight the threat the former
textile community is under from unsustainable development and soaring
house prices. They opened a Free Shop, called “Freesources”, offering
tea, food, clothes, books and toys for free, stating “we believe that
without profit, there is plenty for all.” They also gave out “tourist
information” such as “don’t fly anywhere – it’s destroying the
planet! Take the train instead.”

“At first we wondered if we would run out of free things”, said an
organiser. “Instead, everyone who came down brought something to
donate or share – there was a continuous supply of cake. Hundreds of
locals were so happy to have this community space back again, even
for a few days – they came in and arranged events like storytelling,
and an acoustic music night. Surprisingly, considering we emphasised
that everything was free and donations weren’t really required, we
have made a small surplus! This will be donated to a local charity.
Which all goes to show that Hebden Bridge both needs a community
drop-in space and can support one. People have been asking a lot of
questions that need immediate answers, such as – why don’t we have a
drop-in place like this in the community? What other buildings
currently owned by the council are under threat of a quiet sale?”

“It was brilliant to be able to spend all day in a child-friendly
space, without feeling you had to keep purchasing things”, said
Shona, mother of Jacob, age 14 months.

A source close to the Calderdale Council explained that the original
Hebden Council bought the building in 1972 for £6,000 – before that
it had been a doctor’s surgery and chemist’s. When the Hebden Council
disbanded in 1974 the building passed into the custodianship of the
Calderdale Council, who used 100% grant money – 75% from the
Countryside Commission – to convert the building for public use.

For around 30 years it served as a tourist information centre. The
centre was transferred to a new building last year, resulting in the
loss of two exhibition spaces, meeting room and a convenient central
location . The old building was handed over recently.

Susan Quick of Enabling Theatre said she had asked for the use of
part of the building for use by her group, as had a local cycle shop.
She said the Council told her there were problems with disabled
access into the building.
“That is rubbish,” said Susan, who is disabled herself and lives in
Hebden Bridge “How could Calderdale Council have even considered
trading this public building, which is three stories and has 11 rooms
of varying sizes as well as kitchen, bathrooms, and storage space?
The new place is not much more than a tourist information counter
plus an unchanging display aimed at children only. Despite what the
Council says, the original building could have been converted to have
appropriate disabled access. I am disabled and refuse to be used as
an excuse for public buildings being given away. It’s outrageous this
is to become more expensive flats and a restaurant.” The restaurant
is rumoured to be fish chain Harry Ramsden’s, although it is unclear
whether planning permission has cleared or not.

The locals opened the building to the public on the morning of
Thursday April 8. Jim Brown, the centre’s new owner, well-known in
Hebden for turning a series of buildings into upmarket apartments,
attempted to have them removed by the police. However the police
acknowledged that the locals were legally “squatting” the building,
and Brown’s representatives left amicably after boarding up a window.
“This conveniently supplied us with a dark room to show films during
the daytime!” said an occupier.

The occupiers opened a “Comment Book” for visitors to the centre to
express their opinions about the People’s Information Centre and free
shop, and the occupation of the building.
Comments came from dozens of callers – including local people and
visitors from across Britain.
They included:
· What a great idea. This is just what Hebden Bridge needs.
· I wish you the very best of luck in your entirely
commendable endeavours to put some common sense back into the
ridiculous plans which threaten to destroy Hebden Bridge.
· Best of luck. About time someone resisted the developers.
· Inspiring and stimulating. We need lots more of this. John.
· I’m going back to Bedford near Milton Keynes where I hope to
take your inspiration and put it into practical use. Rod.
· Very good idea. Wish it wasn’t just temporary. Laura.
· There should be more of this community spirit, temporary
recycling of abandoned space instead of waste and
profiteering. It’s fantastic! Kevin.
· Great! Reminded me of the squatting scene in the 1970s. Good
on ya. Maggi.

You can find photos of our great weekend at