The politicians and their friends the developers clearly don't care about housing shortages and the lack of community facilities as our cities are full of derelict or empty buildings. One way of responding to this situation is to squat these spaces. With effort and imagination these abandoned buildings can be transformed into a place to live, an advice centre, a social centre, a co-op, a crche - or whatever else answers a local need. This is precisely what happened last year in the heart of Dublin city. Unfortunately, the council managed to have it closed down in April and to date the house remains empty and unused. What follows is a short account by one of the squatters of why she chose to squat the building in the first place and what they did with the space.
On August 8th of last year, a group of us moved into an abandoned and run down house on Leeson St and proceeded to make it our home. The house, lying empty for somewhere between 8 and 10 years, was in a very poor state of repair. Windows had been left open, allowing dampness to seep in and thick mould covered most of the walls. The back garden was a tangle of weeds which had choked the pipes and drains. There were piles of rubble in every room and no running water or electricity. Gradually, over the eight months that the house was occupied, it was transformed into a colourful home for the people who lived there and for the many visitors who stayed with us. But more than this, it was used as an autonomous space; a place from which to organise meetings, workshops and discussions. In its short existence, the squat facilitated meetings by groups such as Reclaim the Streets, Gluaiseacht, Food not Bombs, anti-war groups and a woman's group. It housed the Bad Books' library and was used as a creative space for artists and street theatre enthusiasts. Friends and neighbours living in flats and apartments and with no access to their own gardens, turned the former weed-choked yard into an organic vegetable garden.
Squatting provides a space for all these activities to take place in. A space that is organised and managed collectively by those who use it. A space that does not cost so much money that small groups or individuals such as those mentioned cannot afford to pay for it. A space that government and local councils are unwilling or unable to provide and so we provide it for ourselves. Squatting challenges the notion that we must pay exorbitant amounts of money for somewhere to live or languish on council housing lists if we cannot afford to rent when empty and unused buildings litter the city.
Squatting a building can be a huge responsibility. At times there is a sense of fear and insecurity with the knowledge that the council or GardaÌ could show up and evict us all at anytime. But the feeling of empowerment that comes with taking an empty building and turning it into a home and a social space and the solidarity and friendship that come from living and working collectively are things that transcend the building itself so that even if it is lost, the desire and need to squat remain alive.
by Sandie M
This edition is No82 published in September 2004