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the return of the basement - meeting 4th february

the basement pixie | 29.01.2008 17:16 | Free Spaces

hooray! this week we will finally know the status of 24 lever street - and can plan how to resurrect an autonomous social centre in manchester - come along to a meeting 4th february to get involved

The Basement Collective may have seemed quiet of late but that's mostly because things have been going on behind the scenes at a very frustrating pace and we've been mired in a world of tenancy rights and roof repairs.

However, many people remain positive and commited to the idea of a social centre in Manchester and now, finally, this week we will know what is happening to 24 Lever Street and when / how / if we will be moving back in.

There's been lots of crazy rumours but our truth is we are meeting with the landlord this week and the meeting next week will be deciding what to do next - everything else you've heard is probably nonsense

So come along and find out the latest - and get involved in our resurrection - at a meeting next monday

When: Monday 4th February 7pm-9pm
Where: Manchester Digital Development Agency, Portland Street, Manchester
Who: anyone who wants to get involved in creating a haven away from capitalism and help Manchester rebuild it's autonomous social centre

If you can't make the meeting but want to get involved and stay informed please email

the basement pixie
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Hide the following 8 comments


29.01.2008 20:19

good news, but what's autonomous about a rented social centre?

care to explain?

Re: autonomous?!

30.01.2008 11:30

Hello care to explain,

I do not speak on behalf of anyone involved in the Basement collective, but I am interested to know what your definition of "autonomous" is. If it is the common definition of "not subject to control from outside" then I don't think many squatted social centres in the UK are autonomous since they are often subject to continual harassment from the authorities and many are eventually evicted. If it means "resisting any attempts by power or authority to subjugate the community involved" then you have a good point, but I do not think it is fair to claim monopoly of the definition simply on this basis.

In my involvement in squatted social centres I have come to realise that the concept is far less viable in this country because we get more harassment from the authorities than in some parts of Europe, where squatting laws are more relaxed and there is an abundence of empty buildings. There is also less interest in the UK, which increases the burden on those involved. People spend a huge amount of their time and energy just keeping the place open as people need to be there 24/7 to resist eviction. This usually means there is far less time and energy left over to run anything productive in terms of activism/workshops etc. Also because of their transient nature, people don't want to commit too much time and resources to improving the condition of the building as there is a fear it could be evicted in the near future and the effort would be wasted, thus they stay in a state of disrepair and are less appealing to people who would otherwise get involved. In my experience people have got involved because the lifestyle and "scene" associated with living in a squat appeals to them more than any radical activism, which lead to conflict and the original aims of the collective being severely compromised. I am not against squatted social centres but they face enormous challenges to be successful.

My definition of autonomous would be "as effective as possible in acheiving the objectives of the collective whilst subject to as little control from outside as possible". I do not see this as a compromise because it is a pragmatic solution for maximum efficacy under the conditions we live in. In this respect the Basement was one of the best run social centres I have been to; it was friendly, welcoming, had great facilities, great food, had a grass roots feel to it, and most of all had great events. The fact that the place was not likely to be evicted at a few days notice, and didn't require the collective energy drain of 24/7 attention probably played a significant role in this. You will probably find the same applies to other great social centres in Europe, squatted or otherwise.

Mike D

great reply mike

30.01.2008 16:54

in germany at least, it is also true that many of the bigger squats have survived and transformed into something resembling an 'at arm's reach' housing collective by bargaining with the owners, usually the council. occupation in the context of a surplus of buildings in places like berlin allows a strong bargaining position, and i think peppercorn rents are paid allowing the collectives to set up something like a housing co-op with communal facilities...



31.01.2008 15:26

i agree with what mike d said, but also the basement was / is never in competiton with squatted centres; many basement people worked to support them too. there's loads of stuff they can do that a rented centre can't - but they get loads of extra hassle too.

The basement collective chose to pay rent so they could create a stable base that was accessible to all kinds of people who may not feel comfortable in a squat (or a place with lots of drink and drugs) Becuase noone had to live there or fight to protect it they could concentrate on other things (although lack of volunteers may have meant that meant making coffee and cleaning other peoples shit up) Now, obviously, circumstances have changed and everything is up for grabs

Maybe nobody wants the basement back as it was and would rather squat? Maybe people feel autonomy has more than one practical application? Or maybe noone wants to be social any more?

Why not get involved and help create something that you feel is autonomous rather than criticising others?

And yes, i do think the basement are entitled to call themselves an autonomous space


In defense of squats

01.02.2008 09:15

I couldn't agree less with mikes generalisations about squating and squatted social centres. It is simply not true to say that we get more harassment from the authorities than similar projects elsewhere in Europe. It's also plain wrong to say that that squatting laws are more relaxed elsewhere. The UK has over 800,000 empty buildings which sounds like an abundence to me and people travel from all over the world to squat here.

However, there certainly seems to be less active interest in social centres in the UK but that applies to rented or purchased spaces as much as squatted spaces. There is certainly a great of burden on those involved (whether squatted or otherwise) but while people may have to spend a lot of their time occupying a squat, that can translate into more time and energy for maintainance or running events and workshops etc as the people are there anyway and need something to do.

I also strongly disagree that the transient nature of squats means that people don't commit time and resources to improving the condition of the building. The same can be true of rented spaces as while fix up a building you only have a three year lease on and surely it's the landlords responsibility. Also, in a squat you can make improvements you'd not be allowed to do in a rented space such as knocking down walls for example.

Squatted social centres certainly face challenges to be successful but no more so than rented or purchased spaces and probably less. Squatted spaces don't have to raise so much income as there is not rent etc to pay. Squatted spaces don't have to worry so much about things like public liability insurance, entertainments licenses, smoking bans, etc etc. Squatted spaces don't have to file their annual returns or keep records of members and they don't have to find people to carry out all these tedious tasks or risk fines when somebody lunches it out.

Furthermore, squats transient nature is actually strangely beneficial. Sadly it seems part of human nature, or atleast part of the culture of this country or activists in this country) that new spaces (or projects) are more exciting and always attract more energy than existing ongoing projects. This means that the cycle of occupation and eviction brings in a continuous flow of people and their contributions while long running projects suffer from burnout and dwindling attention. Additionally, as a place closes down and another is reborn it offers a chance to throw off old habits, abandon accumulated junk and ditch problematic people.

I'm not arguing that there is no place for non squatted social centres or that one type is better than another. I'm simply defending squatted spaces against inaccuracies and generalisations.


Re: In defense of squats

01.02.2008 11:09

N, please do not misrepresent what I have said, as I clearly stated I am not against squats but believe they are less viable than in other parts of Europe (not all of Europe which you see to be implying I said). If you look to places like Berlin and Amsterdam, such is the abundance of buildings that there are vast tracts of the cities which would be nearly empty if they were not occupied by a lively community of people living their lives the way they want to. Landowners seem to have little interest in evicting squats there, which is a rarity in this country. This is why a radical community has thrived there and not here.

With regards to your assertion that I have made "generalisations" about squatting, I made it clear that I was referring to "my own involvement" and indeed many other people I know. I only hope that what you said about a 24/7 occupation of a squat translating to more time and energy for maintenance/events is generally true, in my experience it is not! However, this is systemic of struggling to find a way to deal with problematic people (a widespread problem perhaps - any ideas?). If you have visited the basement you would have found it hard to ignore that the collective involved did a fine job doing the place up, I haven't been anywhere better which is squatted in the UK.

I agree with you about there also being huge challenges for purchased or rented social centres, but the risk of eviction and work being done in vain is minimal. I also agree with your analysis on the benefits of the transient nature of squats, and I would add that they serve as a learning experience in every aspect which would make future social centres (squatted or otherwise) more successful, in particular excluding problematic people as you mentioned.

I wrote my comment to demonstrate that the concept of "autonomous" is often fetishised in the UK and anything else is sneered at because it is "not radical enough", when other options could be more productive or suitable for a particular purpose.

Mike D

how long is a piece of string?

01.02.2008 21:52

i just thought id clear a few things up and add a bit of background on the basement and social centres in manchester:

many people who work on/have worked on the basement were previously involved in the many 'Okasional Cafes' (temporary squats in manchester in the late 90's and early 00's). these were always successful and very vibrant places but certainly required more energy to keep open/ticking over (even though the basement was lots of work aswell). but it was the more negative experiences from some squats that led to the idea to try renting (the basement):

OK cafes...

firstly, in manchester we found it hard to hold onto well-placed city centre squatted buildings (due to property sepculation, la, la, la...), but then in one place when we were lucky enough (like the rampart, kabele and others) to find an empty city centre building with long term potential (apparently no legitimate owners??), after 3-4 months everyone was tragically too burned out to maintain it and an ongoing struggle evolved between 24-hour drug fest mania and serious daytime projects/workshops /events etc.

when the OK cafe by the BBC first opened, people had spent weeks secretly inside doing the space up to feel like any other city centre cafe and during the opening week found BBC staff and other suits coming in for lunch, reading schnews etc, often shocked to realise it was a squatted building. it even got a big mention in the UK lonely planet guide 04 (backpackers still can be seen to this day banging on its doors frustratingly!). but trying to maintain a squatted space to this level of cleanliness/sortedness drove many mad, and within weeks it decended into more of a free-party area with no rules (a great decadent fall of the roman empire/end of the world style party in the heart of corporate manchester....but with limited scope for building a long-term stable activist scene)

secondly, its position and notoriety also made it an increasingly dangerous place too (people being attacked, threatened with needles, visited by manchesters infamous and menacing Noonan gang/family)

thirdly, its a fact too that many people (not just middle-class guardian readers etc etc , la, la, la) , dont feel comfortable in/are put off by squatted buildings, no matter how sorted they are.
the OK cafes were popular with young lefty types, students etc. but you rarely saw 'ordinary manchester folk' there (with a few exceptions). at the BBC OK cafe...apart from in the first weeks, and family stuff, workshops with non-activisty types, asylum seekers etc became redundant due to the chaos of the space.

the basement...

the basement basically has worked more as an outreach project. it was common-place (sorry!) to see city centre suited types in there having lunch on weekdays (picking up leaflets/activist stuff to read etc) and all the saturday shoppers at the weekends. for many people it was like a comfortable gateway to a scene that they had only experinced previously on the news or a documentary or in a street poster. this is where its strengths were.

but having to constantly make the rent payments, bills etc, and as someone said above, abide with all the various environmental health, noise pollution laws and so on, was a fucking pain in the ass and was constantly devisive and frustrating. some felt that so much effort was required to pay all the bills that it detracted from the campaigning work.

many felt there was a lack of fun/bands late night stuff as a result of complying with liscencing.

its also a great irony that while renting made the project secure in a much longer-term sense, after a few years there was a huge fire next door which has meant the project has been closed for a year at least. so there you go.

contrary to what someone has said above, rented social centres and this debate/these pros and cons are not unique to the UK.

in madrid for example, with an incredible history of social centres (10 years ago there were 40 alone in the centre!) there are now around 10 social centres and half are squatted, half rentled.

generally the rented social centres are more for outreach stuff or longterm stability, while the squats are better for big partys, fundraisers, or depending on size hosting major events....

e.g.the basement equivalent La Dinamo which has been going for 5 years and is an outreach-style project
or the inspiring rented seco centre: (with a huge swish office of human rights!! which gives free legal advice to asylum seekers and anyone else who comes along, from trained volunteer lawyers)

or on the squatting-side this place which is truly brilliant (it's 4 huge floors and just hosted the madrid world social forum and had a crackin' post critical mass party last night!)

likewise in berlin over the last few years theres been many new rented cultural centres with a more outreach/professional vibe, and still loads of having it squats.

why do people have to be anti- one approach or another. its bollacks really

btw: definition of 'autonomy':

au·ton·o·my (ô-tn-m)
n. pl. au·ton·o·mies
1. The condition or quality of being autonomous; independence.
a. Self-government or the right of self-government; self-determination.
b. Self-government with respect to local or internal affairs: granted autonomy to a national minority.
3. A self-governing state, community, or group.

the basement certainly isnt run by anyone but the volunteers who work there (except maybe the CIA, Mossad, KGB, aliens and all that lot, who are regular volunteers)

btw: this isnt a social centre:

trisha barnabe-pontwhiste davis i(v)

why not give a squat a go in the meantime...

02.02.2008 14:41

I agree with the comments above which mentioned the usefullness of the basement as an outreach point, but it seems like it's gonna be out of action for a long time yet.

There has been a call for decentralised actions in defence of autonomous spaces on April 11 / 12th, this year ( - maybe something could be done for that?