Squatters move into 20m house

office at tlio.demon.co.uk office at tlio.demon.co.uk
Mon Nov 11 20:11:06 GMT 2002

Squatters move into £20m house 

Group living in Georgian building say they will go quietly when they are evicted 

Audrey Gillan
Saturday November 9, 2002
The Guardian 
Ref: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,836635,00.html

In terms of location, it can't be beaten. Step from the front door and you are right in the heart of central London's Covent Garden. You can see across the piazza and into the market or watch as workers add the finishing touches to the Covent Garden Christmas tree. There are shops, bars, clubs and the opera is just a stone's throw away. The main room has ornate plasterwork and a crystal chandelier. But this £20m Georgian townhouse is not occupied by one of Britain's rich. Instead, it has been taken over by 16 squatters who obtained a set of keys to the empty, listed building from someone they met at a party. Inflatable mattresses have been scattered throughout the rooms and a communal living area has been set up in a loft-style space at the top of the house. Paintings have been hung on the walls and one room has been decorated with African cloth, masks and a wooden armadillo. There is a portable television, a two-bar fire and a little electric grill. The heating, lighting and water are still working. In a bedroom there is a scattering of toiletries and clothing. A copy of Zola's L'Assomoir is lying on the floor and written in orange paint on the wall are the words: "Parlez moi d'amour." The squatters have been living in the house since late October. They moved in after they were evicted from a block of flats where they squatted for a year and a half in Gray's Inn Road. They say they are entitled to squat under section six of the Criminal Law Act 1977. The building, at 43 King Street, is owned by the insurance company Scottish Widows and the telecoms firm Henderson Global Investors through the Covent Garden Market Limited Partnership. They have referred the matter to court and hope that next week it will consider interim possession, which will lead to the squatters being evicted. Thomas, a 31-year-old from the west coast of Scotland, with a master in ceramics and design from Glasgow School of Art, admits "it's a bit cheeky" to be squatting in such a prime location. He shows us round the house and denies that it has been "vandalised", as was claimed, or that the squatters have been holding illegal raves. "We are decent people who just squat," he said. "We needed a place to live. We got the opportunity to get the keys for this place and no one was living here. It's a great location because none of us have to travel to work. "They just don't want us here and I can understand why. But we are keeping the place warm and we will leave when they ask us to legally. We are not troubling anyone." The people who live here all work. Emily, a French woman on a break from her job in a nearby shop, said: "I don't know where I will go when I get kicked out." Aurelie is a waitress, Nikolaus is a landscape gardener, and they said their wages were too low and London rents too high for them to afford to live elsewhere. There is a variety of nationalities, including French, Polish, Bulgarian and Israeli, and there is a woman and her 10-year-old daughter. There is even a dog, Lulu. Thomas said: "The reason that we squat is that we know the law. This building was doing nothing for over a year. "When they asked us to move before, we said, 'Can we have a day and half to get our stuff moved?' They said no and we said, 'OK, check section six.' If they can't get into the building without causing criminal damage then they have got to go away. "It wasn't much to ask, we have 16 people in a building, one of them is a kid. But we will go quietly when we have to." 


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