Last night the 20 occupants of the old bingo hall were evicted by around 50 police including tactical units with riot gear, under the pretext of fire regulations. Ironically, the police interrupted a meeting that had just secured 5 fire extinguishers and was discussing the opening up of the remaining fire exits in preparation for the planned public launch tomorrow.
The police initially said that they would not take action on the squatted building, as squatting is a civil matter between occupants and building owner. However, the squatters gained a higher profile through local media and outreach work, promoting anti-capitalism and social change, and organising a public meeting and music event that was anticipated to draw large numbers of people. Following this, the police threatened the occupiers over two days, and finally moved to protect property and the status quo, using any possible excuse.
The fire officer who accompanied the police said that the occupiers would have to immediately remove the metal grills covering fire doors to make the building safe. This was planned for the following morning, and the occupiers and fire warden agreed that this could happen immediately, however the police accompanying the fire officer made it clear that this would immediately lead to arrests for criminal damage. It was obvious from the huge number of police in attendance that the outcome was already set, and that the only result the police would tolerate was eviction. Given the recent reputation of police actions against political protestors, the occupiers left for the own safety rather than keep the doors secured.
We expect that this building in the centre of our city will remain empty for an indefinite amount of time, as has the previous social centre site on Mill Road, owned by Tesco, and an increasing number of properties in the area. At the same time, artists, musicians, community groups and local people struggle to find spaces to meet, socialise and put on events.
We believe that local communities, rather than wealthy interests, should determine what the buildings and spaces in the local area are used for. We will be going ahead with the planned public meeting at 7.30 pm, in the street outside the bingo hall, where we will be discussing the repression we have faced, free spaces, and our plans for the future.