Perhaps this is the start of a people’s fightback against the Croydon Establishment.
A group of squatters calling themselves “Reclaim Croydon” has moved in to the abandoned offices of Brick by Brick in the town centre, to show the high and mighty who control the borough that the people of Croydon have had enough.
“We are occupying this property as a protest against Croydon Council, corrupt property developers, and the conditions they have created for the families, working-class people and homeless people in Croydon,” Reclaim Croydon said in a statement issued last night.
The choice of building to squat is a good one: Brick by Brick, of course, was the council-owned housing company that in five indulgent years managed to borrow £200million from the Town Hall and in all that time built only three council flats, with most of its other developments going for private sale or unaffordable “shared” ownership.
By September 2020, BxB had failed to repay a penny of its loans and had never managed to make a profit, dragging the council into bankruptcy, and inflicting potentially a decade (at least) of misery on the whole borough.
Brick by Brick’s offices on George Street epitomised the pomposity and indulgence of the characters who were running the shitshow: Colm Lacey, the ex-council official who adopted the grand title of “founder and managing director” of BxB spent £1million of public money having the commercial premises done up to his satisfaction, with a “showroom” on the ground floor and offices above, with top-of-the-range shower rooms on every floor. No expense was spared.
The bespoke metal signage that used to sit over the expensively designed shop frontage now sits in the corner of one of the former offices. Left lying around, there’s one or two other reminders of Brick by Brick’s brief, but very costly, existence.
Following its financial crash, the council is winding up BxB, and what’s left of its staff were decanted back into Fisher’s Folly earlier this year as they handed the offices back to its owners, the Whitgift Foundation.
The Whitgift Foundation is supposedly a charity, because they run three large fee-paying private schools, as well as a couple of care homes. In reality, they are actually a massive property empire.
The Whitgift Foundation is the biggest landowner in the borough. They are the people, effectively, who are responsible for the run-down state of Croydon town centre because of their decade-long and disastrous dalliance with Westfield.
And now they want their building back from the Reclaim Croydon squatters. Court notices have been plastered up on the outside of the building, notifying the occupiers that they will be expected in court later this week.
The collective of activists are protesting against what they describe as “the power, greed and corruption” within Croydon Council, and to show solidarity to all the people of Croydon living in sub-standard or overcrowded rented accommodation, slum-like temporary accommodation and those who are street homeless.
They say they are here to show an example to those in power that working class solidarity is not dead. They have received support and solidarity from South Norwood Community Kitchen, South Norwood Tourist Board, Save Central Hill Estate Group and anarchist group Class War.
The eviction hearing will be at Croydon County Court on Altyre Road on Friday, September 15, at 10am.
Reclaim Croydon are asking for support and solidarity with a protest outside the court with banners and placards.
In the Reclaim Croydon statement last night, the squatters draw attention to the often poorly built and badly finished state of many of the Brick by Brick homes – which the private owners and those with expensive share ownership mortgages can now do nothing about because the company is, like the borough, bust.
“As a result of this mismanagement, we have empty, unusable estates, demolished and not suitable for habitation, a lack of community buildings, and a small number of already wealthy developers cutting and running with millions in taxpayers’ money,” the Reclaim Croydon statement said.
“As a result of their robbery, hundreds and hundreds of people are on the street right now, starving families are forced to pay double Council Tax and community spaces are left to die.
“The people you failed to house are housing themselves here and now!” say the squatters.
They list a set of demands and say that they will not leave the Brick by Brick offices until all of them are met.
These include social housing for all 10 of the people occupying the BxB offices.
“Since Croydon has shut down most of our community spaces and are failing to support our community, we demand an independent building for a community social centre in this area, where the people of Croydon can mobilise, organise and help themselves.”
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