The Hackney Social Centre grew out of meetings through the Northeast Squatters Network, which was working to strengthen solidarity and skill-sharing locally between the squats in north-east London. The decided to occupy the former Chimes nightclub at 231 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, to create a non-commercial social space, planning activities such as free language lessons, a donations-only cafe, a free shop, meetings of local groups, skill-share sessions and a bike workshop – “a place to imagine and build alternative futures for our neighbourhood. This building is a small step, but we make the road by walking.”
After squatting the building, the group faced three weeks of violent attacks and attempted illegal evictions – twice by the owner of the property, and once by the police – before the Hackney Social Centre opened on February 14th 2008.
“We’ve opened in spite of early challenges because we’re tired of yuppie maisonettes forcing up to housing prices, while buildings are empty and affordable housing is eaten away. We’ve opened because we’re set to resist and oppose the threats posed by gentrification, capitalism and the upcoming Olympic Games. We’ve opened because Hackney needs free spaces – spaces to escape the divisions of capitalism and the profit-hungry rat-race… After four weeks in the building we were shocked by two sets of violent attacks – first by purported representatives of Howun Estates Ltd (the company the owns the property) and then by the Hackney Metropolitan Police! The attacks of last week (on the 22nd and 23rd of January) definitely shook the building and its occupants, but have only left us more convicted and committed. Within 11minutes of the first attack nearly 30 members of the local activist community had arrived on the premises. Our network is strong, and we look forward to many many days exploring the potential and possibilities of Hackney’s newest autonomous zone.”
Meetings, a feminist gathering, discussions, film showings, regular meals and benefits, graffiti workshops, open mike nights, practical workshops on many topics, self-defence classes, were just a few of the numerous events the centre hosted in its few months of existence…
The Social Centre’s scheduled eviction was successfully resisted on Monday 21 April by over 60 people – both inside and outside the building.
The Hackney Social Centre was eventually evicted on May 16, 2008, after two unsuccessful eviction attempts in April. Many of the people living at the Social Centre have since returned to their countries, others are still in London, involved in different projects. The Social Centre was a brief but valuable experiment in active resistance and active defence of a large autonomous space in Hackney.
The centre has since re-opened as the White Hart pub…
An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.