Squatters' rites

I find myself in a beautiful square in Vauxhall, south London, surrounded by a luxurious wealth of greenery and an assortment of misplaced Victorian houses. Bonnington Square has become a legend among the squatting community, a real example of making something out of nothing. It has been home to many a musical hero both obscure and infamous: John Lydon, the Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Happy End all passed through here at some point.

Originally founded by a disparate crew of travelling hippies and wandering anarchists, many from New Zealand, who brought their DIY communal ethos to London in the early 1980s, it soon blossomed into a fully fledged artistic community. The square was originally owned by the Inner London Education Authority, and around the time the squatters arrived had been condemned to be bulldozed into a car park. The squatters fought back to save the square, forming a housing co-operative and eventually buying it from the council.

Thirty years on and the square is as alive as ever, except that there aren’t any squats or squatters any more. The co-operative dissolved in the late 1990s and everyone became a homeowner. Many of the houses are now worth in excess of £1m, and there is a communal “pleasure garden” with an exotic mix of bamboo, mimosa and bananas.

“We may have been anti-Thatcherite, but we were definitely the children of Thatcher’s regime,” says Andrée Wilson, one of the three founding members of the co-operative, when I sit down for coffee in her newly decorated former squat. “None of what we did would have been possible were it not for her.” Thatcher’s deregulation of the housing market was what made it possible for these people to claim this square as their own.

“Because we’d saved the buildings, we felt free to do whatever we wanted with them,” says Wilson, who is now in her 50s. “I painted mine in what I called Australian desert colours, so when it got cold during the winter you were at least visually warm.” They soon added a nightclub and a cafe, part of the ethos of making everything as cheap and accessible to the community as possible. “We used to rock. The police were afraid to come down here in the early days,” she says, with a wry smile.

via The Guardian