The struggle for space in London is real. Even if you're reading this from the luxury of your own London flat, you can probably appreciate there are plenty of people living in fear of eviction, unable to afford the space to set up a small business - or even to do yoga, frankly.
This morning I exited the tube station, noticed the heavy rain and muttered 'Jesus' to myself. A guy sitting on the floor, with no-where else to go, commented cheerfully, "He doesn't exist".
Across the city people are being evicted from homes that have been sold off for private development. The not-for-profit company, Respace Projects has received requests for help from groups across the country; from pensioners willing to physically occupy a contested leisure centre and movie directors looking to grow vegetables amidst an eco-village, to legendary London venues in danger of being squeezed out - for profit.
The point about yoga was not facetious. If you can't do yoga at home - my friend has discovered the limitations of her new flat on her long limbs - even this simple exercise becomes expensive. A recent free trial in a centre in Camden was so packed that you couldn't stretch without touching a sweaty stranger. And this privilege normally costs £16 a class ...
News fresh from my underground network of spies informs us that although the disputed leisure centre hasn't yet been sold, developers have moved in their equipment - without permission from the council, according to the current owner, the council. Whether the community will have anything left to respace after heavy machinery renders the space unsafe, remains to be seen. The author would like it noted for legal reasons that this outcome isn't guaranteed but could be considered likely.
A similar tactic has been deployed today in London at The Hive's sister project and renowned Hackney arts and music venue, Passing Clouds. Contrary to a prior agreed term of 3 months tenancy, the developer's 'security' broke into the building overnight and changed the locks. Such behaviour means that unless the Passing Clouds family can reclaim their space, London will be robbed of yet another treasure. There will be a lot of disappointed customers this weekend and staff, musicians and artists will lose money.
Before these recent developments, Passing Clouds had been working with the group behind Finsbury Park's 'beloved grassroots music venue', Silver Bullet to save yet another independent from becoming a victim of the struggle for space. Whilst progress is important and the development of London necessary - the terms by which this 'development' is conducted appears heavy handed and morally dubious.
A 'developed' London need not have the negative connotations of evictions, privatisation, gated communities and loss of public land. In the true sense of the term, a developed London would be one that has evolved to meet the needs of its inhabitants - a sustainable, healthy and community-led city that affords space to residents to work, rest and play.
There are nearly 80,000 empty buildings in London. Whilst every city has its limits, surely it is illogical and inefficient to let so many buildings go to waste? ReSpace is just one of many groups pushing to use wasted space - we reuse bottles and cans, why not empty buildings?
Word has just reached me that 70 of Passing Clouds' nearest and dearest have rushed the door and regained access to the building - yet another example of the power of community!
Click here to watch some of the action