One of the main issues currently affecting Britain is the housing crisis. Over the last five years cities like London have undergone major gentrification and a large proportion of people are being forced to leave their communities and networks (i.e. where they have spent most of their lives) to live in the outskirts.
Times are tough – some people find themselves waiting up to seven years or more to get social housing. To add more salt to the wounds, most private landlords are unwilling to accept people who are on housing benefits. And the government has announced another decision to withhold housing benefit for those aged 18-25 years.
But what do young people do to adapt to the housing crisis? Well that is what I wanted to explore as I set out on a mission to find out more about “alternative living”.
In the last few months I have been introduced to a few people who have chosen to squat rather than rent. Squatters are often portrayed in the media as troublemakers that don’t want to conform to society because they would rather live for free and not work. Because of this I decided to spend some time in a couple of squats to see what they were really like and to uncover the truth about the squatting community.
The squat that I found to be the most unique was an abandoned gym in North London. I had only been there for two minutes and already I felt welcomed. It was a Friday summer evening and a few people were having a BBQ on the roof, overlooking London’s skyline.
After mingling on the rooftop, my friend took me on a brief tour of the rest of the squat and I couldn’t believe how amazing the space was. There was a massive in-door basketball court filled with mattresses and a sofa, and artwork decorated the sports hall – giving it a feeling of life and homeliness! As a common Londoner who is used to sky high prices for even the smallest of rooms, I am not going to lie, I was quite jealous.
Off I went into the next room – the kitchen. Painted on the wall was the word “recycle” and right beside someone had written “Clean/Pots/ Pans/etc….only”. It was really interesting for me to see this, because it turned all those common stereotypes I heard about squatters on their head. This little hide away belonged to a community of people who had a level of respect for each other and who were living in an ethical way. Now while I had complete respect for that, one thing that was hard to ignore was a brewing smell of sewage. But with a little time I soon got over it.
While I was in the kitchen I got talking to a Canadian guy called Bus, he told me that he had been squatting since October 2013. Bus loved squatting. He told me that he met people from all walks of life and living with large groups of people meant you could understand their needs more.
We then spoke about the party side of squatting, He explained to me that most squatters are quite young and that they do go through fazes of partying a lot in the squats but he felt that it was no different than when people go to university and live in halls and flats.
“Squatting is unique, the government wants to get rid of squatters and turn off the raves but that is what London is famous for: its party scene and music culture, and the fact that it’s a free and multicultural society is what squatting is all about.”
Overall I really enjoyed the time that I spent in the gym; I met some fantastic creative characters and I really felt a strong sense of community. However, I couldn’t help but think that squatting is a difficult thing to do because the fear of being evicted never goes away – not to mention the problems of accessing running water and electricity. All these things considered, squatting is a great alternative to renting and if you are an open-minded person that is happy to sacrifice a few comforts then you will really enjoy the experience.
(Featured Image taken from Flickr)