In mid-March 2011 local activists launched a new social centre in a squatted job centre in Deptford, southeast London:
“We have occupied the disused Deptford Job Centre as a response to the brutal cuts to public services being carried out at both a local and national level. We aim to clean the place up and convert it into Social Centre Plus: a new public space for members of the local community here in Deptford and the surrounding area, that we can share, contribute to, and create a truly social building and a hub of local opposition to the cuts programme.
This is a self-organised space, run by people from a variety of backgrounds and we are not in any political parties.
We have taken the space in order to also demonstrate our resistance to the cuts Mayor Steve Bullock and his Labour cronies, under the orders of the Tories in Westminster, are promising us. The Council aims to slash £88 million off of its budget within the next four years. Libraries, day care centres and early years centres will all be closed while we have to suffer from pay cuts and price rises.
However, we believe that we can and must fight back. We have seen the results of mass, popular revolt in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and its surrounding region, as well as militant action by students against the coalition government here in the UK. We want Social Centre Plus to be a catalyst for social and political change based on the principles of direct action, solidarity and self-organisation.
That said, we want this to be a free space for the community to use and we invite everyone inside with their ideas for the building and the wider world, or even just to chat over a cuppa. We plan cafés, film nights, workshops, and a million other things on which we’d love to hear your ideas!”
The Centre lasted around a month… It featured a cafe, meetings, organising against cuts, film nights and much more.
Attempts to kick them out were stoutly resisted:
“SOCIAL CENTRE PLUS, the occupied Job Centre on Deptford High Street, successfully resisted an attempted eviction the morning of Tuesday 12th. Around 60 people gathered outside the space, linking arms and blocking the front door so as to prevent High Court bailiffs and builders – backed up by a vanload of police – from entering.
The victory was achieved following an hour-long stand-off, during which the bailiffs – from Locks Bury Services – met with Paul Jackson, the site’s landlord, were spotted outside the Deptford Project, the café opposite Social Centre Plus, whose owner also wanted the space for a high society art exhibition. There they made a series of frantic phone calls in which they spelt out their reluctance to confront the occupiers inside the anti-cuts space, some of whom were positioned on the building’s roof.
Eventually the police informed the bailiffs that they had no intention of intervening, and recommended that they come back another day. Members of the local community remained outside SCP for most of the morning, savouring the success for South East London’s anti-cuts movement.
However, the SCP Collective is well aware of the continued threat to the space. A second eviction attempt must be expected, and this time Locks Bury will come unannounced, and with the necessary tools and thugs to remove the occupiers. Despite this, SCP remains committed to hosting and facilitating the local anti-cuts movement, even if they do have to move on from 122 Deptford High Street.
With this in mind, SCP hosted a public meeting the night before the eviction resistance in order to coordinate further activities against the government’s brutal cuts, both at local and national level. The NHS, local education and attacks to quality of housing were amongst the issues discussed. Local residents who want to join the borough’s fight back against the cuts are encouraged to get in touch or come along to one of our imminent Open Days.”
Under threat of eviction, the centre occupiers decided to move next door… “Following last Tuesday’s failed eviction attempt by bailiffs and builders sent by landlord Paul Jackson,” Jenny Wilshere said, “the SCP Collective decided to move out of number 122 into number 124 next door. You can currently find us by knocking on the door underneath the ‘Christ Life’ sign.”
The move was undertaken in order to maintain a safe space open to the community, Wilshere said on behalf of the anti-cuts group. “Despite the fantastic showing from almost 100 local residents in order to prevent the bailiffs from entering last Tuesday,” she continued, “we can’t be sure that the Locks Bury Services thugs won’t return with heavy tools and violent intentions. So we felt that the best way of keeping open a genuinely community-led space against the cuts was by moving into a new site which had no legal eviction order hanging over it.”
Both squats were, however, evicted, in early May:
“Social Centre Plus 1, the originally occupied Job Centre site on 122 Deptford High St, was finally evicted this morning [May 6th] by a group of bailiff thugs from Locksbury Services backed up by around 10 police officers. The idiots were so desperate to get into their building that they smashed a window on the front door of SCP2 next door, which had already been evicted by the court on Wednesday! Fortunately we managed to extract almost all of our possessions first…”
Read some of the daily stories of Social Centre Plus
An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online