“As Self-Organised London Social Space, we have now been squatting Eileen House at 80-94 Newington Causeway in Elephant & Castle for three weeks against welfare cuts, gentrification and the privatisation of space.”
Eileen House – an empty office block at Elephant & Castle which was the subject of one of London’s most controversial planning applications – was occupied by squatters in February 2013.
Then Mayor of London Boris Johnson was due to adjudicate on developers Oakmayne’s plans to redevelop the site of the 1960s office block on Newington Causeway with a 41-storey tower; a plan opposed by the adjacent Ministry of Sound club and other local groups.
The squatters who took over the building, a coalition of collectives calling themselves the Self-Organised London group (SOL), included people involved in the recent local squats at the Colorama buildings in Lancaster Street and the former Holy Trinity Centre next to Archbishop’s Park.
“Residents of Elephant & Castle are sick of having so-called regeneration plans imposed on them by developers, Southwark Council, and now Boris,” said Emma Jennings of SOL.
“These plans for luxury flats and fancy office towers have seen local residents forced to leave the area by their own council, in the case of the Heygate Estate, and by sky-high rents.
“Gentrification and Government cuts to housing benefits are tearing our communities apart – we hope that by taking over Eileen House and returning it to the community, we can provide a space for us to come back together again and organise against Boris and for housing which meets our needs.”
“The past week has shown what a forceful impact squatters, activists and residents can have against gentrification. Our wide range of events and activities covered people’s kitchen, film-screenings, talks and discussions on housing and welfare cuts, an anti-gentrification walk, a Latin American night, live music events, and much more. Instead of being an empty and neglected space on a main road, Eileen House is now buzzing with activity! A big thanks to all of the many locals and Londoners who attended our events in huge numbers, every day! Do continue to visit us, to suggest events, to support us in solidarity!”
Events at the SOL included Spanish-English language exchange, weekly political theatre and tango lessons from Library St London, as well as the new Queer Cinema from London Queer Social Centre.
After 6 amazing weeks of self-organisation, hosting events and supporting communities, Self-organised London was evicted by High Court Bailiffs and Cops in early April. At 4am in the morning, they stormed Eileen House, kicking in the front door of the social centre and causing mayhem. Luckily, the squatters were well prepared; no one got arrested and personal belongings and most of the social centre equipment was safely moved out of the building.
The planning application envisaged the construction of a 41-storey biggie with 335 flats, NONE of them socially rented, not even 20% of them shared ownership. While SOL was trying to provide a space for the public, for the communities of the Elephant, for London activists, Eileen House is now sealed off and inaccessible to the public, awaiting its demolition.
As they said after the eviction: “Another building in perfect condition that is rather left empty for those who have plenty than put to good use for those who have none. To us, it shows once more that the law and state authorities uphold an unjust and absurd system, to the benefit of corporate profit, to the disadvantage of the people.
The collectives and individuals who set up SOL are now taking a break, to organise our homes, to regain our strength. Whatever we decide to do in the future, what networks we form, what projects we start, let’s keep self-organising, let’s keep resisting, let’s keep squatting!
A big, massive and warm thank you to all of you, all of the groups and individuals that made SOL a vibrant and buzzing hub of activities. Thanks for coming along, for donating stuff, for enjoying the view from the roof, for showing support and love. We could not have done this without you.
Struggles against development and gentrification of course continue in the Elephant & Castle/Walworth areas, with the decanting and ongoing destruction of the Heygate Estate, the so-far only partially successful attempts to empty the Aylesbury of social housing tenants and the massive redevelopment plan for the Elephant area. Once a working class area of densely occupied social housing, Southwark Council is merrily handing the area to developers with the aim of imposing a different ‘social mix’. Code for replacing working class people with a better sort. Tis a dynamic at work all over the city…
Check out Southwark Notes
An entry in the
2017 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online.