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Case #508

London Squatters Create sustainable Communities


In London in early 1993, a group of unemployed and homeless squatters took over two abandoned buildings and came up with the DIO (Do It Ourselves) philosophy - now central to every project involved in the HAZ (Housing Action Zone) movement Thus, Manor and The Farm were established, providing homes for some of the group. The groups? horizons broadened to include other plans such as establishing a communal organic garden, a sustainable water system and saving for a renewable energy system. Says one squatter: ?We wanted to challenge all those negative ideas about squatters - we weren't the ones who had left the buildings to rot - we were doing everything we could to make them livable again, and trying to be environmentally responsible.

The success of both takeovers gave the group confidence: 'We took on the authorities and won. First we said to the police: "In this space for a few hours, this community's laws apply, not yours." They had to let us party. Then we said to the council: "We will use these buildings better than you will, and we want to spend the housing benefit we are entitled to, on regenerating them - turning the money into a great place to live, not lining landlords' pockets." Eventually they had to let us.'

This confidence has been vital in the conception of their next project, The Ark Community Center, based on a council estate in Luton, just north of London. It had been the scene of rioting and severe social disintegration. 'We have put in a proposal to run the center with 100 workers being paid benefit-level wages. By doing this we can unlock the voluntary potential of the people living on the estate; this is an assault on social alienation as well as poverty.'

The Luton group has other plans including a non-profit community shop (provided with organic fresh vegetables), a plan to get cheap fresh food to poor people, installing a wind generator to energy for the whole estate, and cheap entertainment for kids.


This project is one of the most exciting and radical sustainable urban-regeneration projects in the UK. By firmly yet non-violently standing up to governmental authorities, homeless and unemployed people were able to utilize and regenerate existing structures to their own benefit. The success of their first two projects led to the initiation of a third, one with expanded programs. Voluntary work gives members a sense of ownership. Members say: ?The most important thing is to remove professionals who want to "provide" for us, but expect big wages - we can do all this much cheaper than anyone else. This is regeneration by the people, for the people. We are taking responsibility for our own environment and we want to make it livable and sustainable. We can't leave it to people who think regeneration is about repainting a few doors and promising computers to schools. What people don't realize is that our philosophy addresses social, environmental and spiritual poverty, as well as problems with money.?
Location: London, UK
Action: Direct
Setting: Developed World
Extent of Action: Local
Issues: Environment, Resources, Community Building
Year(s): 1993
Outcome successful
Source: The New Internationalist, June 1999, p.29


See Case History # 518 for Resources
Prepared By: sl 1/02
Rating: 1
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