Hampstead squatters allowed to stay in mansion

Gerrard Winstanley office at evnuk.org.uk
Mon Oct 2 20:15:44 BST 2006

Hampstead squatters allowed to stay in mansion 

· Housing trust agrees caretaker deal
· Repairs carried out and neighbours are happy 

Diane Taylor
Saturday September 30, 2006
The Guardian 

Five-storey houses in the middle of Hampstead do not come cheap, 
particularly with parking spaces for four cars and a back garden as 
big as a football pitch. Properties of that size sell for around £6m. 
However, the current occupants of one such home are not part of London 
NW3's literati, nor are they millionaire businessmen - instead they 
are squatters who are living in the mansion legally, thanks to a 
ground-breaking agreement with the trust that owns it.

The property, earmarked for social housing and owned by Circle 33 
Housing Trust, had been empty since December 2005 when it was vacated 
by the United Women's Homes Association which provides housing for 
women on low and moderate incomes. It had been used for that purpose 
since 1927. A group of veteran squatters forced their way in almost 
three months ago. After just 24 hours they received a letter from 
Circle 33 telling them that they had no legal right to stay and would 
have to vacate the premises sooner rather than later. But instead of 
court hearings, bailiffs and dawn raids Circle 33 decided on a novel 

The squatters reasoned that they were fulfilling a caretaker role 
while the property was empty, were carrying out repairs, were not 
troubling neighbours and should be allowed to stay until Circle 33 
began to redevelop the house and brought it up to current health and 
safety standards. To their amazement Circle 33 agreed and a licence-
to-occupy agreement was drawn up and signed by the trust and the 13 
squatters who were living in the property last Wednesday. Circle 33 
says the squatters will save them £6,000 a week in otherwise providing 
security for the site along with the cost of taking the squatters to 
court and getting them evicted. While estate agents say that houses of 
that size in Fitzjohn's Avenue go for around £6m, Circle 33 says its 
house is worth £1.11m, with its use restricted to social housing. The 
squatters have been told that they can probably remain until March 
2007. David Ireland, policy adviser of the Empty Homes agency, a 
campaigning charity, welcomed the agreement. "We want to see more use 
of short-life housing. There are 290,862 long term empty homes in the 
UK and 121,179 homeless households."

The squatters, who are part of an organisation known as Circle 
Community - no connection with Circle 33 - focus on providing 
environmental projects for local communities. Many of the occupants 
are working or studying, with jobs ranging from fashion designer and 
translator to juice bar manager and engineer. Some are English, others 
come from countries including France, Japan and New Zealand.

They say their paid work subsidises creative interests and that if 
they had to pay London rents on top of food and bills they would have 
no quality of life.

"Everyone in London is running after money and that's not nice for 
your soul," said Nadia, a French fashion designer who teaches children 
juggling skills on a voluntary basis.

Circle 33 Housing Trust is working with Camden council to redevelop 57 
Fitzjohn's Avenue to provide affordable housing. Kim Parkins, managing 
director of Circle 33, said: "This agreement is a creative and 
pragmatic response in the circumstances ... it allows the building to 
be secured and maintained while planning for its future is still under 

Phoenix, who has been squatting for 14 years, welcomed the agreement. 
"We have had informal verbal agreements with developers before who 
have allowed us to stay in a property for a while but never a licence 
agreement like this.

"It's nice to know that we've got a place where we can stay and rest 
for a while. I've been evicted five times in the last 11 months and 
it's very, very tiring."

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