Squat Parties Won’t Stop, a set on Flickr.
As of September 1st 2012, squatting on residential property is now a criminal offence punishable by arrest, a 6 month prison term and or a £5000 fine. Talk about draconian. I won’t even bother devoting space to the names of the lowdown dirty scoundrels (politicians, newsmedia) involved in this oppression; you can find that information all over the net. For those of you who have no clue what squatting is, basically it means taking over an unused, usually dilapidated property and making it your home. The crucial part is securing the property without getting caught, urm…breaking in. Prying the Sitex off the window and smashing a pane is usually how most gain entry, but you could be charged with criminal damage if caught by police. Essentially, squatting is a social movement born out of necessity in many parts of the world. It has a long and distinguished history in England, dating back to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 right down to World War II when thousands of people, including ex-soldiers, occupied empty homes and land, claiming they had a right to do so because they had nowhere else to live.
Fast forward to 2012. The last I heard from my links in London was squatting would be made illegal in 2013, but apparently the bastards on Parliament Hill decided three months was too long of a wait, so they decided to speed things up. Squatting has been a controversial topic, especially over the last four years. Several articles have been written about hapless homeowners returning from holiday, only to discover a bunch of strange, dirty hippies have taken over their property, scrawling filth all over the walls. To add insult to injury, most of their belongings ended up doing time in the frontyard. Horrors. And if that wasn’t bad enough, said homeowners had to get a court order to evict the squatters at their expense, since they couldn’t bloody well kick ‘em out due to a provision in Section 16 of The Criminal Justice Act. And who could ever forget the infamous Park Lane squat party of 2010, when thousands of peeps took over a £30 million property for one raucous night of festivities which resulted in road closures, police in riot gear and salacious pics of ravers on the rooftop.
Yet, with all that being said, only a minute percentage of news articles on squatting ever exposed the real truth behind squatting. The reality is the majority of squatters appropriate abandoned, usually dilapidated homes, hundreds of thousands of which are slowly going to rot all over London, while entire families languish for years on council waiting lists for affordable housing. The reality is most people squat because they can’t afford to pay the extortionate rents that are so typical of London. The reality is most squatters tend to be young, intelligent, artistic types who are keenly aware of the injustices perpetrated by a system intent on keeping them enslaved mentally and economically. In recent years, there has been an interesting shift in the type of people traditionally involved in squatting. This paradigm now includes, quote on quote, “upwardly mobile citizens” with careers in finance, engineering, even science, who previously would not have squatted, but have opted to because they realized how deeply they have been duped by an unfair system.
So now that the laws have changed, what does this mean for the future of squatting and squat parties in particular? Fret not my friends. Squatting on commercial property is still legal – for now, at least. This means that squat parties are far from finished. What does a typical squat party consist of? Noise, squalor, and lots of booze. Which ain’t necessarily a bad thing…unless the toilets don’t work. “Pass the plunger please – wait, it’s got a hole in it – oh shit…” Squat parties range from a late night soiree in a council flat to a full on rave in an abandoned warehouse. This scene has played an important role in facilitating the spread of minimal and tech-house circa 2007 onwards. When it comes to squat parties, nothing is sacrosanct. Not even a former Buddhist temple round Kennington way, which once hosted a heavy metal screamo / drum n bass mash up complete with a hot and cold vegan buffet. Damn, that sweet potato soup was da bomb! Fortunately we left shortly before fighting broke out and the cops were called. Violence can be problematic at squat parties due to its clandestine, barely legal nature, not to mention the possibility of bad drugs. Better to get your goodies ahead of time from a reliable source than from some shady lurking near the backwall. After all is said and done, squat parties provide legitimate alternatives to the mainstream mush that is standard fare in Central London nightlife. They are not always about loud music and kids getting out of hand; they have been known to host poetry nights and community style gatherings where people can exchange information and ideas that foster growth. The kind that would make the cronies on Parliament Hill shit in their pants. True, squat parties are far from perfect, but until steps are taken to genuinely address the root cause of social inequity, people will continue to occupy spaces abandoned by those who hold the reins of power.
Copyright © 2012 Frankie Diamond. All rights reserved. Excerpts of less than 200 words may be published to another site, including a link back to the original article. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety and posted to another site without the express permission of the author.