When masked bailiffs arrived to clear the North Hulme Adventure Playground of a group of squatters and dismantle the homes they had built there, it marked the end of the most recent in a series of occupations, and eventual evictions, of non-residential buildings across Manchester. The site’s residents spent three months clearing, building and planning to create a place that could act as both a home and a community space, but were evicted before these plans could come to fruition.
In a place such as Hulme, where DIY spaces and creative community spirit are such a strong part of the area’s history, was The Addy a missed opportunity to continue that spirit?
‘The Addy’: one in a line of squats challenging ideas around home
The site, known locally as ‘The Addy’, accommodated up to 50 people since the summer. Residents built their own structures to provide shelter using reclaimed materials and traditional sustainable building techniques. As well as functioning as a refuge for individuals experiencing homelessness in the city, the camp was also the beginning of a sustainable living and permaculture project, with residents planning to open the site up for community use.
These plans were cut short on Monday 27 November, when a High Court Order was used to enforce the clearance of the space for its owners, Manchester City Council.
The former playground, located on Jackson Crescent, had been disused for 3 years since Manchester Young Lives, the charity that ran it, had their funding cut.
“My Mum was a youth worker and used to work at The Addy. I’d been there loads as a kid”, explained Jamil, a member of the squat who had been living in a treehouse built by the group, before bailiffs dismantled it last week.
Jamil is one of a number of artists and activists associated with the Loose Space autonomous collective, who have organised numerous squats in the city over recent months, including the Hotspur Press, the old Cornerhouse cinema, Hulme Hippodrome and until recently, The Addy.
This year’s occupation of the old Cornerhouse on Oxford Rd attracted an estimated 4000 people to a free arts festival organised by the Loose Space and Manchester Activist Network, before their eviction in August. The festival aimed to highlight the value of autonomous creative spaces, and whilst acting as a temporary home for its residents, challenged traditional notions of what home is and could be.
Talking about his experience at The Addy, Jamil explained:
“There are people with lived experience of homelessness who are living with us, but we’re not a homeless hostel and that’s a very important distinction to make. There are now people that have been left without a home after the eviction, but we have to be very careful about our definition of what a home is, and that’s part of the argument we are trying to make.”
Winter Wonderland plans cut short
But the project wasn’t just about the residents finding a home for themselves. They also wanted to share what they were doing with the local community, and explore alternative ways to coexist in the city without losing their connection with nature.
Before their eviction, two members of the squat talked to The Meteor about their experience of, and plans for, The Addy.
For Shkiesha, who has always lived in the city, living on The Addy was the closest she has ever been to nature.
“I don’t hate the city, but I hate the concrete and all the giant buildings. And I hate the fact that I don’t feel like I have any space to do the things I need to do. There aren’t many social spaces where I can go for free, which I feel should be just a standard.”
Eventually opening up The Addy as a social space for Hulme was part of the plan for the land squat, as another resident named Tricky explained.
“We want to try and keep this bit of land and utilise it for the people, for sustainable housing and permaculture, helping people to grow and learn new skills.”
Jamil explained that they were even planning a winter wonderland event, which would have been taking place this month, with free mulled wine and a performance of a 17th-century folk story about the coming of winter; a play that had previously been performed in Hulme in 1842.
“We were getting a cast together, we were preparing our costumes… We wanted to do something for free that was absolutely beautiful and show people what could be done with the space. Unfortunately, we got kicked out the day after our planning meeting.”
From boardrooms to bailiffs
Before the eviction there had seemed to be some hope for cooperation between the squats and the local authority, when Manchester City Council (MCC) proposed that a meeting take place in November with representatives from each occupied space, including The Addy.
However, these hopes were dashed when The Addy’s eviction was carried out on the same day as the proposed meeting. Amidst the confusion surrounding details over the purpose of the meeting, MCC confirmed that they had proposed a meeting on the 27th, but that it was “just about trying to keep lines of communication open, in particular ensuring that the squatters were living safely and not putting their own health and safety at risk, as well as respecting their neighbours in the community”.
This apparent attempt at open communication clearly did not come off as hoped. Despite MCC telling The Meteor that “it sounds like we might have had a message [from the squats] saying they couldn’t make it”, residents of The Addy were expecting the meeting to go ahead until they were woken that morning by high court enforcement officers wearing balaclavas.
When asked about the timing of the eviction and the proposed meeting falling on the same day, MCC stated that it was “completely irrelevant to the timing of the eviction which was purely a case of when a court order was obtained and when the relevant people were available to carry it out.”
However, to those that were evicted that day, the timing could not have been more relevant. In a Facebook statement about the event, Jamil wrote:
“They wanted to deliver a psychological and physical blow to the Loose Space family so they put on a show. They brought their burger vans, their balaclava bailiffs [Andrew Wilson & Co], a climbing team and a giant construction bin they hired to dump everything we couldn’t take down/pack up in 2 hours.”
As a freezing rain fell and the residents salvaged their belongings, the masked bailiffs were served by their own free tea and hot food van. Food was initially available to those being evicted from their homes for £2.50, though it was eventually offered for free to everyone present at the time.
It was suggested that many of the bailiffs chose to wear balaclavas to protect their identity because they were local to the area and were ashamed of their actions.
“It’s interesting that they chose to cover their faces,” commented Jamil. “I ask people to think why – is it because they were all just cold, and wanted to keep their faces warm? Or is it because they knew that actually, their actions were shameful?”
Andrew Wilson & Co released a formal statement which simply detailed the legal process followed through the courts but declined to comment on any further issues regarding the eviction itself.
Speaking about his time at the squat and nature of the eviction more broadly, Jamil went on to say:
“It was a wonderful thing to be doing with my time, and the brutality with which our home was shut down is demonstrable of the inherent aloofness and violence in seemingly technical matters of policy.”
Hulme: a squatted history
The squats popping up around the city in recent years are nothing new for Manchester, and particularly Hulme, which has a rich history of creative DIY spaces.
Hulme became a haven for alternative living when a failed housing project left four blocks of flats called The Crescents vacant. A vibrant mix of artists, activists, punks, travellers and ravers made the space their home and throughout the 80s and 90s, Hulme became a free-flowing melting pot of politics, free parties, street art and even a handmade pirate ship.
During Hulme’s redevelopment in the 90s, The Crescents were demolished, and with it went the anarchic spirit that had contributed so much to Manchester’s counterculture image that is now, ironically, being appropriated to attract newcomers to the city in the name of regeneration.
Many from The Crescents were offered homes on the Bentley House Estate, known locally as ‘The Redbricks’. Residents of these buildings have been active in the community and even set up a free underground cinema in their communal cellars in the early 2000s, but this was shut down by the police due to health and safety concerns. Around the same time, temporary social spaces sprang up in the area under the name OKasional Cafe; a project which eventually fed into what is now Loose Space.
Tempting as it is to romanticise Hulme’s history of colourful chaos, the 80s and 90s in Hulme were not without danger, division and deprivation, and many would not want to return Hulme to the time when they were essentially abandoned by the authorities. But could there ever be hope today of the powers that be recognising the creative initiative shown by its communities over recent decades, without storming potentially fertile ground so heavy-handedly?
The owner of a local business just a stone’s throw away from The Addy thinks not. Catherine, who runs the cafe named Teatime Collective, believes that Manchester City Council simply has different priorities for areas such as Hulme, and sites such as The Addy.
“[The squatters] might have the ideas there but in reality in today’s society that’s not going to happen because they wouldn’t be allowed. It’ll get stopped at every hurdle because [MCC] would rather gentrify the area.”
Catherine explained that the changes she and her staff have seen in Hulme over recent years, including the building of luxury flats, university buildings and student accommodation, have had a damaging effect on Hulme’s community and even cited the process she calls ‘gentrification’ as a direct contributor to the resurgence of squatted spaces in the area. Speaking about the recent residents of The Addy, Catherine said:
“That’s just people trying to make a living for themselves, because they’ve not got anything. They’ve been pushed out of their homes and they’ve been pushed out of life – a gentrified life they’ve been pushed away from.”
Teatime Collective are feeling similarly pushed out of Hulme, as they are now struggling to compete with the recent additions of Costa Coffee and Subway on Stretford Road and will have to close over winter.
Annie, who works at the cafe and has lived in Hulme her whole life, said that while recent changes in the area has meant that it is “losing its compassion”, she still values its community spirit:
“Hulme is where the heart is. I grew up here and Hulme is my life. You can walk down the street and see every different kind of person.”
Catherine believes that the older residents of Hulme are likely to be more accepting of spaces such as The Addy, than newer residents who “don’t get it”.
“When I first moved to Manchester eight years ago, there were still people living in vans on The Redbricks – it’s always gone with the territory”, explained Catherine.
“So when the Hippodrome and The Addy got squatted nobody round here batted an eyelid. The yuppies that have just moved in might do, but none of the people who have lived here for years would be phased in the slightest.”
Everybody needs good neighbours
Though residents of The Addy did make themselves known to some of their neighbours during their stay, and reported a good relationship with them, the group’s hopes of opening their doors as a community space, even temporarily, were quashed with their eviction.
Many of The Addy’s neighbours still remain unclear about what happened there, as Alessandra, a resident of Brian Redhead Court, next door to The Addy, explained:
“[Myself and others in my building] knew it was being occupied but weren’t sure what was going on there. It would have been nice to have some information about what was happening, to know that what they were doing was safe. But I would have been happy for them to stay there if I had known what was going on – they have to have somewhere to stay.”
Another local resident that knew little about the squat until the eviction was Jane, who has lived in Hulme for 11 years and is now raising a family around the corner from The Addy. Jane, who owns a home on Royce Road, told The Meteor:
“I’m ‘live and let live’ so I don’t really have that strong an opinion on it. I think the chances of me going to an event there would have been slim but it’s not something I worry about.
There is stuff going on in Hulme but there’s always room for more, as long as it’s what everyone wants, and it’s used and it’s safe.”
Jamil explained that he would like local residents to take an interest in their work, but that those living in the squats have a responsibility to facilitate that engagement, which is especially difficult when under constant threat of eviction.
“It’s up to us to open these spaces up. Squats are inherently, by the nature of the fact that they are pockets of resistance and consistently under threat of attack and eviction, places that have either a bad reputation or that people are just a little bit scared of, having no context and no knowledge of it. So, therefore, the responsibility is on people who are living in the squats to open those spaces out and to tell a story about who we are and what we do.
With The Addy, unfortunately, we didn’t get enough time to tell our story.”
Telling a story
Though The Addy’s story ended before it could be shared in person, the work done there was captured on film by local media organisations. A short film about The Addy was edited following the resistance of county court bailiffs, when Lousy Badger Media supported the squatters in defending their home, and is part of the Resist All Evictions series on the Established Beyond YouTube channel.
Whilst Lousy Badger Media cover the action on the ground of the Manchester squat scene, Established Beyond have created a 35 minute documentary about Manchester Activist Network. The narrative shares the revival of squatting in Manchester as a direct action to highlight the contradiction of empty buildings and rough sleepers, through the occupation of the Cornerhouse Cinema, which brought many creatives and activists together.
Established Beyond presented this film in an immersive screening during a recent Housing Ideas Exchange event, inviting the audience to watch the 35 minute documentary in the recreation of a squat environment. Activists in the room shared personal stories, poetry, a squatters Q&A and a live music performance, and information on squatting and ideas around the question ‘what is home?’ were shared and can now be found online here. Images from the event can be viewed here, and the full-length documentary will soon be released on the Established Beyond YouTube channel.
As can be seen throughout Hulme’s recent history, the use of creative storytelling including film, music and street art, has acted as an integral part of squatters’ movements. Manchester’s current squats clearly embrace that element of their work wholeheartedly, also drawing on influences from much further back than the days when ‘Planet Hulme’ was covered in street art and sound systems boomed across the estate.
During the eviction of The Addy, Jamil played ‘The Diggers’ Song’ to the bailiffs – a 17th-century ballad protesting against the enclosure of common land.
“The lyrics are absolutely just as relevant today as they were then. These are conversations that have been happening for hundreds of years, what we are doing is nothing new.”
Many who were removed from The Addy are already planning their next opportunity to offer an alternative narrative about home, public space and the squats themselves, as Jamil explained:
“When we get our new building the responsibility is on us to tell a story and welcome people into that space. All I ask from the public is that they come with open eyes and without preconceptions about who we are and what the space is.”
The resurgence of squatting in Manchester has certainly shone a light on the untapped potential of the city’s disused buildings and spaces, a light which shows no sign of going out anytime soon. For now, the story continues and residents of Manchester will be waiting to see what the next chapter holds.
Alice Toomer – McAlpine
See here for more information on Loose Space
Feature Image: The Meteor