Hard News by Russell Brown


Squatting in the Square

OE ain't what it used to be. Yes, younger New Zealanders still have some of the rights of empire to stay and work in Britain -- and many of them do very well with the opportunity. But I can't help but feel they've missed out on the fun. When David Cameron's governent snuck the criminalisation of squatting into a legal aid bill last year, it ended a tradition of centuries.

I lived in London from 1986 to 1990, and spent more than half of that living in squats. There were plenty to chose from -- viable properties went unfilled by underfunded or dysfunctional councils, and New Zealanders were well-suited to the demands of the life. If the council had smashed up the toilet to deter occupancy, someone always know how to put another one in. (I never did, but I still recall the day we unblocked a toilet that had been left blocked solid to the rim by the junkies who'd been there before us. It involved  hydrochloric acid from our cleaner mate, facemasks, rubber gloves, a trowel and a lot of shouting.) The local lesbian crew included a helpful builder who could do the door without doing too much damage. I did greatly once surprise myself by successfully hanging a door.

Living rent-free was one obvious advantage of the lifestyle, but there was also a certain sense of freedom: of being both outside the system and making use of resources that the system had squandered. By the time I got there, most of the best places, the big terraces, had gone, but I did live for a while at 70 Bonnington Square, Vauxhall, surrounded by a quirky community in which New Zealanders were heavily represented.

Some of those Kiwis never left, as you can see in this documentary by Alastair Oldham, which traces the evolution of the square from a derelict slum to what it is today: a sustainable community housing project. It brings back very fond memories. Saturday mornings on the roof garden, good times at the local and Christmases in the cafe. Yeah, good times.

Bonnington Square from acacia films on Vimeo.

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