London: Squatters turn £5m building into art galleries and cinema

Mark mark at
Thu May 21 10:33:56 BST 2009

Squatters turn £5m building into art galleries and cinema
Peter Dominiczak
Evening Standard

Squatters have occupied a £5 million building in central London and turned
its 60 rooms into an arts centre with galleries and a cinema.

The 14 squatters took over the six-storey building in Waterloo two weeks
ago. The former language school and hostel had been empty since August
2007. Now the squatters, who call themselves The Oubliette art collective,
intend to open the vast building to the public as a space to exhibit art,
screen films, perform theatre pieces and listen to bands.

In the face of threats that they could be evicted from the premises in a
matter of weeks, the collective said today that they have vastly improved
the building and deserve to stay.

Dan Simon, 31, who works as a graphic illustrator, said: “Squatters have
been talking about this property for a number of months. In two weeks we
have built two galleries, a cinema, a theatre and more in what was a
rotting, derelict space. Before we arrived, there was fungus everywhere
and the place was falling apart. We have damaged nothing and are trying to
create an ambitious space for art which will benefit London.”

Mr Simon said the credit crunch has provided squatters in London with many
more opportunities, adding: “There are a lot more empty properties. There
are a number of properties of a similar size to this one which have been
empty for a number of years. It is a tragedy and more of them should be
used for projects like this.

“We are trying to give artists and other creative people a space where
they can work without the burden of extortionate rents.”

Mr Simon said they have tried to negotiate a deal with the property
company responsible for the building which would allow them to stay. He
said: “The company, Dover House Property Investments Limited, does not
want to negotiate and is going to take us to court.

“I have been a squatter for more than eight years and have previously been
in properties for up to three years at a time, but it looks like we may be
thrown out in a matter of weeks.” Ed Aves, 23, who studied
photo-journalism at the London College of Communication, said this was the
first time he had lived in a squat.

He said: “People have an incredibly bad perception of what squats are
nowadays. They expect them to be full of junkies but this place is the
positive side of squatting.”

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