An antidote to the bleakness of the previous couple of posts. Here are pictures of people's bedrooms in some Dublin squats.
This is the Boland's Mill in Dublin. It is an imposing and historic building. The oldest structures on site were built in the 1830s, though it has been added to and amended many times in the last 180 years.
(all references for this blog entry can be found at the bottom, just scroll down)
Boland's Mill is probably most famous for the role it played it the 1916 Easter Rising. The building was one of those seized by Eamon de Valera for the Irish Republic in the first major 20th century battle for Irish independence. Despite the failure of the rising, and the execution of almost everyone involved, it marked the beginning of a national movement which culminated in the 1919 Irish War of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921.
As W.B Yeats described in his poem 'Easter, 1916':
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
The story of the mill continued. It ran as a commercial building through the 20th century, finally closing down in 2001.
Those of you familiar with the story of property development in Ireland in the last ten years can probably guess what happened next.
The mill was sold to Benton Properties for €42m in 2004 and was to be redeveloped for apartments and offices. Big parts of the property are protected with various listed warehouses and houses on the site.
Thanks to the 2008 crash, the value of this property dropped by 84% from €61m in 2007 to €9.9m in 2009. Development plans were still being discussed in 2010 when Benton Properties went bankrupt.
In late 2012 the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) took control of the site. NAMA is a unique organisation, created by the Irish Government in 2009 to take on all the country's bad loans and all the assets connected to them. NAMA currently holds one of the biggest property portfolios in the world and no-one is entirely certain how it works.
With a €2bn budget available to them, it is speculated that NAMA will continue with the original redevelopment plans in an attempt to recoup their original expenses.
There are no plans to re-open as a mill.
For now it sits empty, awaiting it's fate.
Outside the mill, someone has painted white outlines on the floor. A reminder perhaps of the deaths here during the Easter Rising; or a symbol of the death of this building and the jobs and bread it no longer provides to the local community; or maybe a commentary on the effects of the financial crash, that left so many buildings and ambitions dead and rusting.
In the North of the city, in an area called Phibsboro is another abandoned mill. This is not that surprising. According to the fantastic website Abandoned Ireland:
"The Irish Flour Milling Industry, within the twenty-six counties, has been reduced to
three milling plants operated by Odlums."
Despite it's vast scale, and unavoidable presence as it looms over the Phibsboro canal, I can't find any information about this building at all. From my exploration of it I can tell you it feels quite old (interpret that as you will) and it clearly suffered extensive fire damage at some point. Perhaps it is better to leave this place mysterious. It certainly felt that way as I wandered round it. So instead of a history lesson, I present a couple of lines from James Joice's 1922 Ulysses which mention the Phibsboro Canal:
"In silence they drove along Phibsborough Road. An empty hearse trotted by, coming from the cemetery: looks relieved.
Crossguns bridge: the Royal canal.
Water rushed roaring through the sluices. A man stood on his dropping barge, between clamps of turf. On the towpath by the lock a slacktethered horse."
And, from the same Wikipedia entry that offered that Ulysses snippet, another line concerning the future:
"Given the uncertainty resulting from the GFC downturn and The Great Recession, however, much of the planned redevelopment of DIT Grangegorman, Broadstone, Phibsborough Shopping Centre and Dalymount Park
has been delayed indefinitely."
This hall is the home for thousands of pigeons. Disturbing them all with my torch light in the dark, I felt them flying all around my head and filling the space with their panicked beating wings. It took a courage I wasn't sure I had to kill my torch and stand stock still in the black as they settled above me and around me and my eyes got used to the gloom and revealed this cavernous space.
Abandoned Ireland explores the Bolands Mill, history and present, as well as hundreds of other historic Irish sites: http://www.abandonedireland.com/bm.html
Wikipedia explains the Easter Rising 1916: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Rising
and the Irish War of Independence, 1921: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_War_of_Independence
See the whole of W.B. Yeats' poem Easter 1916 here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172061
NAMA takes over the Bolands Mill: http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/toxic-bank-takes-control-of-historic-bolands-mill-site-26857106.html
NAMA explains itself: http://www.nama.ie/about-us/
Read about Phibsboro: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phibsborough
Read about Ulysses here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_%28novel%29
Last December, I took this picture of a shuttered row of shops in Archway in North London.
It seemed a sad reflection of the condition of the British economy that every shop in the row was closed down and shuttered except for a betting shop which was doing a fine trade. Around the corner was another row of dead and empty shops with only a pawn-brokers offering payday loans still trading.
Last week I was walking down Springfield Road in North Belfast when I came across the same scene, every shop was closed, only the betting shop was running.
I'm sure these scenes are repeated across the UK. If you see another example of this sad sight, send me a copy & I'll add it here.
March 5 - Update.
After posting the above photos I went for a walk through Derry & saw the same again. In this block only the bookies and the pub were still running, everything else was shuttered:
This is the Magpie.
This colourful Bristol squat has occupied the site of a former charity shop in Stokes Croft, Bristol for about seven years. In that time it has been home to numerous artists and musicians, it has hosted cinema screenings, yoga and reiki classes, gardening workshops and various other community activities.
The back yard hosts a regular market.
Inside, wood burners, rocket stoves and other useful items are constructed out of old gas cans.
Herbs, vegetables and other plants are lovingly tended.
When I visited in January, the people there were constructing a library as two dogs slept peacefully on comfy old armchairs.
While practical and useful activities go on in the Magpie, mostly the space is used to make creative, beautiful and mysterious things for their own sake.
The Magpie. A weird and wonderful corner of my favourite city.
This dramatic, half built structure sits on the outskirts of limerick in Ireland, testimony to a forgotten confidence.
Like every green space in the city, horses graze the land walking unconcerned around the dramatic structures.
In the late 1970's Lambeth Council was facing some problems.
You may be aware of the (surprisingly apt) permaculture mantra: the problem is the solution. Demonstrating a level of joined up thinking that points to origins with the residents, rather than the council, a new type of housing contract was created. Independent 'Shortlife' housing co-ops took responsibility for these problem houses, repairing and maintaining them in exchange for being allowed to live in them. As the New Statesman explained last week:
"These co-ops were comprised of people with nowhere else to go and no prospect of buying anything else. Many were on the housing waiting list and continue to be so to this day."
So effective were these housing co-ops in managing these properties independently that the council were able to leave them to it - problem solved! These buildings became homes. Through the co-ops, the residents pooled their skills and resources and repaired their houses.
Roll forward thirty years and these properties are comfortable homes, fixed up by the people living in them. The residents are still co-op members, supporting one another and embodying a sense of community and solidarity that would probably baffle a lot of London's residents. The co-op members are still mainly living on low incomes and some of the original residents are now retired, living in homes that they fixed themselves without need for handouts.
Wouldn't it be nice if the story ended there? Take a moment to imagine that it did. Do you feel it? The warm and unfamiliar glow emanating from your insides? Don't worry, you're not getting ill. That's what it feels like when you contemplate a government policy that works with local people to produce a fair and sustainable solution to an intractable problem.
Buildings rescued from dereliction, homes provided for those in need, communities empowered by collaboration, and all of this while actually saving taxpayer money!
Well. That's enough of that obviously. In 2009 Lambeth Council was facing a budget deficit and London was experiencing a property boom. No prizes for guessing what happened next. The residents were invited to buy their homes from the council at full London prices, or to leave and hand the buildings back to the council. This offer totally ignored the fact that the current value of the properties was created by the 30 years of maintenance and repair work that those residents had done. As many of the residents are pensioners or on low income, they would obviously not be able to pay these prices.
Lambeth estimated that the sales of the 'shortlife portfolio' would raise about £50m (coincidentally the same amount of money that they just spent on their new town hall) however reports suggest that this estimate failed to take into account the effects of absurdity and farce that always like to make an appearance in local government schemes. An article on SQUASH's website explains:
"When a property is vacated the Council pays to make it uninhabitable to “stop squatting”. Later, it pays a multinational Camelot to go in and make it habitable again for its “Guardians”, people often in desperate housing need who live in the property. The council then pays a fee of anything up to £100 a week for Camelot “protecting” the property. The Guardians, who have no tenant rights, live in the property paying Camelot a deposit of £500-600 and paying a “rent” of up to £65 a week... The council then has to pay auction houses like Andrews and Robertson fees to sell properties at an average of 30-40% below market prices. A recent 10-bedroom house in The Chase in Clapham, cleared of short life tenants, was sold for £1.6 million. At the same time a much smaller house in the same street was being marketed for £2.6 million."
So far, so depressingly familiar. And while we're about it, let us remember that the evicted tenants will be joining Lambeth council's housing list - yet more people needing to be housed at the council's expense. The march of time and pressure from the council have taken their toll on the shortlife co-operative tenants. According to South London Press (12 April 2013) there were 12,000 of them at the peak of the policy, there are only 85 of them left and about half of those are currently fighting eviction, resisting the wholesale destruction of their unique communities.
During this process one family who agreed to move after living in their home for 30 years was forced to move during their daughter's A'levels. To soften the blow hey were provided with storage space in Chelmsford. Last December the Guardian gave some enlightening examples of the effects of this policy:
"Jimmy Rogers, 74, spent decades running a community basketball team in Brixton. A few years after honouring Rogers for his efforts, Lambeth started pursuing him for his tiny terraced home. He too faces imminent eviction. Another man saw his home of three decades seized by bailiffs just 20 minutes after he lost a court case. When he returned to fetch his possessions, he had to jostle through prospective auction purchasers inspecting the house."
Lambeth council argues that this is a case where the needs of the majority must be put ahead of the needs of these few tenants. Speaking to the Guardian, Pete Robbins (Lambeth's cabinet member for housing) stated "Ultimately it's about priorities, I can't prioritise this small number of people over the 1,200 people in temporary accommodation, the 15,000 people on the waiting list, who also want the opportunity for an affordable home."
Unfortunately the council has not ringfenced the money that it expects to raise with these one-off sales, and will not make a commitment that any of it will be used to build or otherwise obtain more social housing.
In the midst of all this I went to visit one of the remaining shortlife co-ops, occupying a little side street by Clapham Common. These buildings have been continuously occupied since 1974, starting off as squats before becoming formalised as a housing co-op later in the 1970s. Two of the houses on this street have already been seized and sold by the council. A co-op resident there showed me around his house.
He described the improvements he had made to his house in his time there. This included replacing the window frames, fixing the roof and installing central heating. He explained that this work had been made possible by the help and support of his neighbours in the co-op. "I want to install double glazing too, but it's a big commitment when we don't know how much longer we can stay here"
The members of the few remaining housing co-ops in Lambeth have been working together to campaign for their right to stay. Since 2012 they have also been proposing an alternative to Lambeth's housing policy - the super co-op. The idea is summarised on the Lambeth United Housing Co-op website:
Lambeth council sets up a system where void properties, and empty properties needing refurbishment, are separated out from the main body of housing stock.
Properties that need renovation are then allocated to one single co-op, Lambeth United Housing Co-operative, for a period of, for example, 2 to 5 years (dependent on surveyors reports), and the co-op oversees renovation and refurbishment.
After this period, the houses are returned to the general council stock, with occupants included. Each occupant cancels their co-op membership and becomes a full council tenant.
As properties are returned to the main housing stock, other houses for renovation are brought in to Co-op to replace the ones that have just been refurbished.
Alongside this alternative proposal there have been protests and promises to resist evictions if the council continues to pursue this policy (legal challenges have become much harder since the government cut funding to Legal Aid). The co-op members do not stand alone, local residents, bloggers and housing activists have pledged support for this campaign.
If you want to add your support you can sign the petition here: http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/?page_id=562
Lambeth United Housing Co-op: http://www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk/?page_id=168
New Statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/01/why-lambeth-dismantling-its-housing-co-operatives
The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/dec/01/woman-lambeth-council-home-faces-eviction
SQUASH Campaign: http://www.squashcampaign.org/2012/11/how-the-co-operative-council-is-destroying-housing-co-ops/
Lambeth Housing Activists: http://housingactivists.co.uk/
Bureau of Investigative Journalists report on UK social housing September 2013: http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/12/19/london-councils-sit-on-millions-meant-for-building-cheaper-homes-2/
C.S.O La Astilla (also known as L'Astilla or as L'Hastilla) is a huge social centre in West Barcelona. C.S.O stands for Centro Social Okupado, in English it's Squatted Social Centre.
Based in a sprawling former factory/warehouse La Astilla has been providing a range of cultural services since it opened in March 2009.
They have an indoor skatepark which is open to anyone who wants to come along and is managed by an independent group of skaters. They are answerable only to each other and to the other users of the skatepark.
You can see a great video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fCeTcNYANo
As well as the skatepark they have a hugely popular concert hall which puts on regular punk gigs and fundraising parties supporting all kinds of cultural and political causes.
There is a wood-fired pizza oven in the concert hall. When I visited in early December 2013 they were just starting to build a new, improved model.
In the basement is a gymn where they offer regular judo classes, boxing and other training sessions. There is also a cinema, library, study space and meeting room in the same space.
The middle floor contains a bicycle workshop that's open to all. It is run on an exchange basis - bring what you can spare, use what you need.
The bike workshop shares a floor with an art studio and gallery a space where work can be created and displayed.
Alongside all the cultural and practical activities that La Astilla offers, the space itself is an experience to walk through. Every corner, every inch of wall space has been painted, decorated and adapted by the people who use the building. Like every squat I have visited on this journey the building gives an impression of being alive, changing and growing, breathing with the energies of its users, expressing their hopes, their passions and their creativity.
See a lovely video of the place from May 2012 here: http://latele.cat/es/la-astilla-cso
Walk through the woods near London, in the Forest of Dean or just outside Nantes, and you will see the strange shapes of handmade houses that emerge from the trees and soil.
Some are made using ancient techniques, some modern ones, and some of them are built with completely unique methods inspired by material constraints or the aspirations and imaginations of their creators. They are build using materials natural to the forest as well as those salvaged from dumping grounds.
These houses are made by individuals, couples or families as a place to live and to shelter from the elements. Their forms express freedom, individuality and practicality.
The Seasons have their own effect on these little houses. I photographed the cheerful house above in late spring. The image below shows the same house wearing a winter coat in January.
So what are these places like inside?
Continuing the theme of abandoned buildings in the Basque Country as promised, I present a collection of images of a closed down school in Pamplona.
This old hospital sits on a hill overlooking the city of Bilbao in the Basque Country in Northern Spain.
I don't know the story of this building - when it opened, when it closed, or why. But while I was visiting that city someone mentioned this hospital to me. Apparently it had appeared in the local news some days before because people had squatted it and were living there, among the old treatment rooms and the broken tiles.
I crept in one blustery afternoon. Sneaking past the security guard who was patrolling the site with his dog, I made my cautious way through the gardens and found a place I could climb into the building.
The place was a wreck. It was filled with old abandoned objects that had been used to form every type and shape of rudimentary barricade. My progress deeper into the building was slow, punctuated by moments of deep cogitation as I considered the next piled up barricade and the methods I could use to surmount it without injuring myself, breaking my equipment or making too much noise.
The atmosphere kept my nerves stretched tight. I was listening for the sounds of the guard patrolling but the noises I could hear were hard to make out. Distant crashes, the scraping of furniture, thumps, sounds that could be interpreted in many ways, too distant to make out, too big to be ignored. Logic told me it was empty window frames banging in the wind, old boards creaking with age or the sounds of the alleged inhabitants, working somewhere far off in the building, creating a home in some corner of this vast space. My spine was telling me it was mystery, unknown forces, danger, my senses, heightened by the atmosphere amplified the distant noises. This building was not welcoming. My feet wanted me to run. But the photographer in me, the explorer, was transfixed by what I was finding.
Every room revealed a scene that took some time to absorb.
The space resounded with echos of human life. This hospital had been a backdrop for countless private dramas, stories of sickness and cure, life and death, slowly replaced by the lessons of abandonment and decay.
Like every wasteland and forgotten place, this abandoned hospital had become a free space for those activities that are best done away from the public gaze. The illicit acts, the secrets, and these had left their mark on its walls.
And in every doorway a barricade. Some small and flimsy, some almost unclimbable. These barricades didn't seem to be an attempt to stop people from being able to move trough the space. They felt more like a discouragement, a suggestion that visitors were not welcome. With these unexplained barricades and the echoing noises I felt sure there were people in the building, but room after room I found no-one.
In most doorways I could step or climb over the objects barring my way, but a few times I was obliged to move the things right out of a doorway and clear a space for myself to step through. And slowly, barricade by barricade, through labyrinthine corridors, I made my way up through the building, towards reception.
At this point I came face to face with the security guard.
After giving me a stern lecture and spending some time threatening to call the police, he sent me back into the hospital to make my way out the way I had come. This surprised me as we were standing next to the front door, but my suggestion that I leave the quick way was met with uncomprehending anger and a finger pointed back into this vast and unsettling building.
My confusion was enhanced as I made my way back down in search of the room I had first entered. I felt I had seen almost every part of this giant building and I had met no-one but the security. Maybe there were no squatters. Maybe they were hidden in another of the hospital buildings, or were behind a hidden door I hadn't noticed.
Then I got back to one of the doorways that had required me to move a barricade and clear myself a path.
My path was no longer there.
The barricade had been moved back.
Each of them had.
Every doorway I encountered on my way out, was in the same condition I had found it when I first came through it.
Someone had been tidying up behind me, moving all the barricades back into their proper positions.
I have spent some months trying to explain this experience to myself. I am not a believer in ghost stories. The work I do requires a certain practicality of mind as well as an aptitude for assessing danger. I saw no-one. I heard only distant noises. I do not understand what happened in this hospital. I still don't know if people are living there.
I stumbled into this world of mystery and for some hours in this place I was no longer connected to any reality that I could predict or comprehend. The lessons of cause and effect were etched out everywhere, all around me, and yet they didn't seem to apply to my time there, or else they followed a set of rules I did not know.
Now I give this place, and my time there to you. Do with it what you will.
_Lisa shares her thoughts on art, life and the nature of everything.
Copyright © 2013 Lisa Furness
Photography by Lisa Furness is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.