Despite all the damage it was considered worth squatting anyway, partly due to the symbolic value of occupying and renovating a building that the owners are leaving empty while they wait for it to fall apart, but also because it has most of the attributes we wanted and is very conveniently located.
Right on the edge of the city of London, the squat is overshadowed by a massive new 700 million pound development site pushing out into Shoreditch. A huge glistening glass tower block is the first of many that will be built here, transforming the area completely. The warehouse stands alone with earth movers parked in the open area between it and the construction trains and tower blocks, an almost exact real life replica of the image used on the April2008 website.
The squat is located in Bowl Court which is up Plough Court next to the junction of Great Eastern Street and Shoreditch High Street.
Find out about other events taking place over the days of action in London, here http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2008/04/395938.html
There is currently no East London line but the location is very well connected for buses (including night buses).
Bus routes include:
* 8 (from bow to victoria)
* 26 (waterloo to hackney)
* 42 (denmark hill, camberwell via tower bridge)
* 47 (from catford, lewisham etc)
* 48, 149 (London Bridge - Edmonton)
* 67 (from aldgate to woodgreen)
* 78 (from peckham)
* 242 (tottenham court road to homerton)
* 243 (waterloo to wood green)
* 344 (Clapham)
* 388 (blackfriars to hackney wick)
* N55 (Trafalgar to Woodford)
* N35 (Clapham, Camberwell etc to Trafalgar)
* N26 (Trafalgar Sq - Chingford)
* N8 (Victoria to Hainault)
Already planned for the area directly behind the squatted warehouse:
* one 11 storey block
* one 16-32 storey block
* one 51 storey block
* one 14 storey block
* one 6 storey block providing 11 token 'affordable' rental units.
The image shows an artists impression of just the first stages of this expansion of the city into the East End. The red circle shows the location of the squatted warehouse within the image and ironically it also shows the adjacent building which was demolished without planning consent a couple of years ago.
The proposed developments don't end there and ultimately threaten not just the little squatted warehouse but the whole terrace of buildings along the high street frontage.
There are strong feelings against the plans among the local community which is likely to be almost totally wiped out by the expansion of the city. Hundreds of local residents and businesses, the long-established local artistic community and English Heritage strongly objected to the proposals which pave the way for further soulless development.
For more info see...
Open Shoreditch Campaign http://www.openshoreditch.net/
Campaign to 'stop the block' http://www.saveshoreditch.com/ and their campaign video on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeQU22OTq0w
The historic Light Pub also has a campaign to save it from being demolished to make way for a new gigantic office block http://www.savethelight.co.uk/
An article in the Evening Standard here http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23430365-details/Campaign+to+save+bar+on+historic+site+from+developer%27s+bulldozers/article.do
Property Week article http://www.propertyweek.com/story.asp?sectioncode=39&storycode=3104486&featurecode=12137
More press here http://www.savethelight.co.uk/Press.aspx
Galloway adds voice to the fight http://respectuk.blogspot.com/2008/04/george-galloway-steps-up-to-save-light.html
Planning application details on Hackney Website http://www.hackney.gov.uk/servapps/MVM/Online/Generic/StdDetails.aspx?PT=Planning%20Applications%20On-Line&TYPE=PL/PlanningTechAppraisalPK.xml&PARAM0=75864&XSLT=/servapps/MVM/SiteFiles/Skins/hackney/xslt/PL/PLTechAppraisalDetails.xslt&FT=Planning%20Application%20Details&PUBLIC=Y&XMLSIDE=/servapps/MVM/SiteFiles/Skins/hackney/Menus/PL.xml&DAURI=PLANNING
stop the block
At least two groups of people went put to check out empties today and met up earlier in the evening to compare notes. Later, a small groups went out after dark and climbed through an open window on the first floor of a warehouse in Shoreditch.
The three found the building to be somewhat draughty due to many broken windows and also found that the stairs were missing. Fortunately they found a ladder on the first floor which allowed them to explore the rest of the building. Some of the floors were holed with floor boards pulled up and pipes missing. Toilet bowls were smashed or removed and the electric didn't look like it would just a mater of flicking a switch. Worse still, there was a gaping hole in the roof and signs of subsidence causing cracks in the wall. Despite all of these bad points the people checking it out all felt good about the space.
It's four floors, a nice mix of large and small rooms. It got residential properties to one side only and has parking for offloading when we move. It also has a piece of land which may or may not be part of the property but could provide outside space, gardening, composting etc. Perhaps most exciting is that there is already sound proofing! Inside the ground floor is a 'room within a room' professionally soundproofed dual room area which looks like it was probably a recording studio. If the dividing wall was removed you have a pretty amazing gig space (a bit narrow rather than square but a reasonable size).
The first floor has a nice large bright room which would be a great meeting space and there are approx two smaller rooms of this which could be office space/library/computer room/radio studio etc. The third floor is very similar. It could perhaps be workshop space, guest space or residential. The top floor is kind of a loft space and most suitable for residential if divided up. There are spaces for toilets (missing) on all floors and even shower trays and a bath on the top floor. There is no sign of an existing kitchen anywhere.
There is a lot of development in the area with a construction beginning on one 11 storey and one 16-32 storey block, plus a massive 51 tower gone during the last year. However there is no sign of a current planing consent or application regarding the warehouse. There was an application made in 1998 which was turned down in 1999. The proposal involved the bit of land (then a building) plus the warehouse and would have seen them both demolished and replace them with a 12 unit live/work four storey complex with parking. The permission was refused as it is a conservation zone and demolition not justified.
The location is good, fairly central with good transport and yet it is a little out of the way down a back alley. The plus points are the yard, the ability to park a van and off load (although it is just inside the congestion zone which is a bugger), and the sound proofing already in place. The bad points are the hole in the roof and floors, the broken windows and the missing stairs. The first flight of stair should be easy to replace and the other floors can utilize ladders for the time being. Floor boards just need relaying where they have been pulled up. Windows can be fixed by gluing glass over holes where possible. The biggest jobs would be the stairs (top floor looks a challenge), roof, plumbing and new partition walls for residential floors.
We moved into the new space this evening at about 6.30pm, getting off to a good if rather nerve racking start. There is now a sleeping area for three and very basic kitchen facilities, an area for tools and even a meeting room already sorted out. Light is supplied by a deep cycle batteries and an invertor. We cleared the entrance area substantially, fitted extra sliding bolts on the door and put out some blackout cloth to try to prevent light spilling out of the windows and giving the game away.
For some reason the police turned up in the alley, but it seems they weren't called out to check out the building but for some other reason. There is a lot of construction worker activity in the area despite being Sunday evening and we expect it to be the same tomorrow. They seem to be taking advantage of the holiday weekend to do more not less work.
High on the list of priorities is locating where the water comes into the building. Also on the list for the next few days; fix the first flight of stairs, put curtains up on the first floor so we can work without being seen, replace the floor boards, and patch up broken windows to reduce draft and keep cold out.
Other stuff. Fit a secret door bell and provide the squat with a dedicate mobile phone so there is good communication and no need for people to get stuck outside shouting to get let in. We are also keen to sort out internet access ASAP so that the status of the occupation rota and wish list is accessible by everyone.
Found the water--it's on the right hand side, near the front door. The floor is very damp, which could either be the result of a roof leak or an ongoing leak from the pipe. The curtains are up on the ground floor which is good as there is generally a lot of activity in the area and we need to be careful about keeping a low profile for a while yet.
First floor now has all it's floor boards. We need a plumber to get some water going ASAP even if it's just a tap to fill buckets / bottles from. We've found that the stop cock is leaking which explains the damp. On a similar note, the waste pipe from the missing toilet on the ground floor seems to work fine. We've poured stuff down it and it goes away so we should be able to fit a toilet there real soon.
Started work removing the dividing wall between the sound proofed rooms. There is currently no material for making stairs as otherwise this job is low priority. However, some of the plywood that has come off could be doubled up to make a few stairs.
The first flight of stairs in complete. Once the materials were available it took just a couple of hours to complete. There is a little finishing off to do (nothing is nailed down) but basically complete. With more timber available we might actually have the second flight of stairs in before the april 11/12th.
Additional good news is that there is now a toilet. It doesn't flush yet but if we had running water it would be possible to flush it with a bucket - in the meantime you have to flush with a bucket of your own pee ;-)
All floors are now fully boarded. Cannibalising a few floorboards from the top floor has had the added advantage of allowing us to provide safe if awkward ladder access to that floor. There's running water with a tap and bucket so it's possible to flush the one toilet that's been set up. A second toilet it ready to fit on the first floor. It just needs a couple of inches of waste pipe to complete and then needs fixing to the ground with a big lump of cement to make it stable (the base is broken but we can live with it).
The rain over the last few days has demonstrated that there is plenty of water we don't want all over the building and the roof is clearly leaking in multiply places. Our visits to the top floor for floor boards resulted in a closer examination of the roof and the damage. The roof consists of felt and bitumen over planks. Around the hole a fairly large area where the felt is missing, perhaps 5ft by 10ft. However there are many other places where water is coming in and taking a peek through the access hatch we saw that the roof is badly maintained with many cracks which would allow in water.
While we were checking out the roof we also took a look at the state of the floor boards below the main leak,.It is clear that the boards have started to rot and some may require replacing but it seems like mostly surface rot and doesn't seem to be particularly dangerous.
Police turned up at new place yesterday afternoon. They knocked on the door but were ignored and they went away. We think they might have come round after the high winds blow open a window on the top floor causing it to smash and scatter broken glass over the alley.
Inside, plumbing has progressed with water now piped to the toilet. It will be split off here and supply the kitchen next before we think about getting it upstairs,
No progress on second flight of stairs as it need materials. No progress on the roof as it was way to windy yesterday.
Work has begun on the second flight of stairs and there is no reason to suppose that it wont have been completed by the 11th. The diagonal support is in place and it just needs the six steps to be attached and some arrangement for a banister to stop people falling off.
The roof has been patched, at least the big hole but until it rains we wont know how successful the repair has been. Those who did the work noted the condition of the rest of the roof and made some additional repairs. It is clear that there will be an ongoing problem to address.
The work on the plumbing has progressed well. There is now one flushing toilet on the ground floor along with a tap in the toilet and a sink and tap in the kitchen. So far there the waste pipe has not been connected in the kitchen so a bucket is placed under the sink and must be emptied into the toilet before it fills (primitive grey water flushing system ;-)
The first step towards running water upstairs has been made with the water supply splitting off and now simply awaiting a hose pipe to take the water onto the next floor. We have yet to agree whether to have a cafe/kitchen on the first floor and if we do we also need to decide the location of that kitchen before too much work with the plumbing is done.
The electrical system has also been looked at and the invertor is now hooked up to supply power through parts of the existing wiring. This means that the downstairs toilet and kitchen have normally functioning lights and sockets. The rest of the building remains unpowered at this time.
Work patching up the broken windows has begun, prioritising the smaller rooms rather than the big halls. There has been a mixture of approaches. One quick patch methods has been the use of PVA glue and paper to simply reinforce the glass where smashed and cover the hole to prevent drafts. Where visibility or light is more important, this type of repair has been made with bits of glass or perspex. In some cases, the broken glass has been completely removed and the window reglazed with perspex. There are many more to do so we need more perspex.