Squatting, and all that jazz

marki_brown markibrown at hotmail.com
Thu Feb 1 16:41:53 GMT 2007

>From Mary Wollstonecraft to the Angry Brigade, Stoke Newington, in 
North London, has always had a radical tradition. Now a group of 
squatters have taken over a former jazz bar for the 'community'.

by Angela Phillips
January 27, 2007 

The building doesn't smell of damp, patchouli or marijuana, and 
there is a young man yacking away on a mobile phone but otherwise it 
could be the 1970s. Squatters have occupied the old building that 
used to house the Vortex jazz bar in Stoke Newington Church Street, 
North London, and want to make it a social centre for 'the 

I get the impression that these young people don't know that the 
community who really mourn the loss of the Vortex are mostly 
50-something white professionals who just might not feel the same 
level of affection for the kind of community centre the squatters 
have in mind. 

I am invited in by a young woman with very little hair, very cold 
feet and black ringed eyes who is crouching, as close as she can get 
without scorching, to the one-bar electric heater. A pile of 
blankets on a sofa moves and turns out to be a tousled young man. He 
apologises for being asleep at 3 pm but they were all up all night 
waiting to defend their occupation against the forces of evil: 
landlord Richard Midda who, I am told, is planning to knock down 
this Grade II listed building and put up a soulless block with 
luxury flats above and a Tesco - or worse still, a Starbucks - 

I am suitably outraged and immediately sign their petition against 
the encroachment of international capitalism to our little enclave. 
Why on earth would we want a Tesco or a Starbucks on a street which 
already has several extremely congenial independent coffee bars and 
some perfectly good Turkish-owned grocery shops? 

I, for one, vow never to darken the doors of any Starbucks which 
might dare to encroach on our neighbourhood. And as for Tesco, that 
hideous red and blue logo just wouldn't work here. We are a Waitrose 
neighbourhood - if we are to be invaded by supermarkets we'd rather 
have them in a tasteful shade of green. 

Mr Midda had cruised by at 9 am on Friday with a group of private 
enforcers but, finding the squatters protected by the police, they 
went away again. They will return with bailiffs, though, as soon as 
their eviction order is sorted. The anarchists will put up a bit of 
a struggle and then straggle away to set up their 'social centre' in 
another empty building. But I love them for it and wish that those 
of us who really care about the changes in our area had been as 
spirited as they are prepared to be. 

Of course Mr Midda, who has an address in South Moulton Street, W1, 
is in it for the money. Why else would he have strayed this far away 
from home? But why does he think that cutting the heart out of a 
community is the best way to make money out of it? 

The Vortex had been in Church Street for more than 20 years. It was 
part of the reclaiming of this little backwater, stranded in a 
public transport limbo which, partially protected it from the 
rampant housing inflation of the likes of Islington or Camden, had 
become a haven for struggling freelance designers, writers, 
musicians, artists and other assorted vaguely lefties. 

During the day it was a cosy cafe serving hearty soups and great 
chunks of bread. In the evenings it was part of the London jazz 
circuit, featuring a mixed programme of local musicians and 
occasional international stars. In summer, when the sound of sweet 
piano or sax wafted down Church Street on the evening breeze, it 
felt like the best place in the world to call home. 

The Vortex hasn't died. It's gone to live in a soulless cube in 
Dalston where the eventual arrival of the East London line will 
provide it with a link to the rest of London. I am sure it will do 
fine. On the few occasions I have visited, it had a new, younger 
audience but we miss it still and I can't help wishing that those of 
us who really care about the life of our community had fought harder 
to save it. 

So I want to say thank you to the young squatters for doing what we 
should have done. And I give you my word that, should Starbucks dare 
to set foot in Stokey I will never, ever, darken its doors. It's the 
least I can do. 

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