‘People become dreamers when they are not satisfied with their reality, and sometimes they don’t know what is real until they begin to dream.’
Helon Habila ‘Waiting For An Angel’
On the 10th March 2007, we climbed a high ladder and entered the empty building at 190-192 Warham St in Camberwell, South London. It took five minutes to put life back into a building that had been left empty for 9 months.
As we descended the stairs, we began to put a reality to the dream we had all dreamed as we watched the building sit lifeless for all those months. We dreamed of opening up the dead lifeless space and bringing in living bodies. Bodies that could talk, have ideas, disagree, learn how to fix up and build a living space. Bodies that could share the space and enjoy it and extend an open invitation to others to be part of the new life in the building. Bodies to cook and eat together. To get drunk on what possibilities we can create here.
What’s the point of a fridge without any food in it? What’s the point of a bowl without any soup in it? Exactly, So, what’s the point of a building without anybody in it? Well, actually we know the answer to that one. It looks like this: Make £££££££. Well we choose another answer. Our answer: Make life. Surely that must be the point.
That is our experiment here. That is our occupation.
So the reality we found was one of carefully speculated abandon and ruin. The water pipes were open leaving water to run through two floors. Everything was soaked and stained with mould. The toilets and shower were smashed. The wiring was ripped out and walls were smashed. No-one cared about the place. There was only one thing they cared about. Standing in midst of the debris that early Saturday morning, we almost turned back. We almost abandoned our dream.
We breathed in mould and looked at each other for a number of minutes. In silence. But we are dreamers…and what is the point of a dream that cannot be turned into something real? With a passion we put our backs into the work. Others soon got involved and we fixed up the building. We brought fresh air and human warmth back inside. It’s a work in progress. There are always two questions – What needs doing? What can you do? Actually, there is a third more vital question: Are you enjoying yourself?
What is normal in these days?
Early on, we had the unfortunate presence of two policemen inside the place with all their usual prejudices: squatters are junkies, squatters are all unemployed, squatters are this, squatters are that. They made it clear that they thought we were just rats. But who cares what they think!
‘Why can’t you live like normal people?’, they asked. But what is normal in these days? Speculating on a ruined building whilst others are homeless or can’t afford a decent place? Does it seem normal surviving another round of the working week? Labouring – commuting – shopping – resting – back to work. Some money but no time. A little time but no real enthusiasm. A two week holiday as some kind of escape. Yes, this is the normality of ourselves too! It was at this end point of the policeman’s questioning, that one bright burning spirit amongst us replied: ‘We are dreamers…’ and the words hung there, in silence, with nothing else needing to be added. Neither seeking approval nor apologising for what we are, this was a moment that we could have almost let go of but instead our good friend had let something loose amongst us all. Something that remains in the air. It pervades the building. It inspires. It fixes. It rebels.
As dreamers, we try to refuse what passes for being ‘normal’ because no-one is ‘normal’. We try to make alternatives to the daily grind. We try to open up escape routes here, now. Everyone knows that this grind cannot continue. We are all looking for a way out. For us, it cannot be an individual solution as we are all in this together. So the dream we dream is a collective one.
We tried it and we didn’t like it…
None of us wish any longer to slump exhausted in front of TV because that’s all our body can do at that point. None of us wish any longer to drink ourselves senseless in lonely isolation. None of us wish to feel any longer the crushing despair of the lives we are supposed to lead in 21st century London. None of us wish any longer to substitute our passions and our dreams or our desires for things, objects or trinkets. No more!
We are no longer interested in the decisions made elsewhere by waste of space politicians because we have our own decisions to make. We are no longer interested in the lives of rich celebrities because we have our own lives to be interested in.
We dream but we never sleep!
In less than two weeks, we have created a beautiful living breathing alive space once more. What else could we do? We put in floorboards. We dried out rooms for people to sleep soundly in. We scraped off mould and put up paint. We built a kitchen. Built a café space. Put in toilets. Put in sinks. Put in ideas. We might have exhausted ourselves, some of us working 9-5, some of us working precariously but we always found more energy to keep building. What we discovered (once again), is that far from there being a scarcity of energy, knowledge, ideas, there is always a beautiful surplus available when we make our own decisions. We didn’t need a shop-bought plan nor a foreman. There was no book to tell us what to do. There was only our imagination and the fantastic possibilities that dreamers tend come up with.
We know that one day, near or far, we will be forced out of here and the building will once again be sealed off from light fresh air we bring in. We know that but it does not stop us working hard for the dream. Here now. And again. And again…And…
As one of our posters says: ‘As everyone knows, the dream is dead. The dream, the desire, the hope for a better world. And yet we are dreamers. We too should be dead, then. But if we are not mistaken…HERE WE ARE’.
But it is very much an open dream. Be here too. It is every dreamer’s space. Be occupied! This has been your invitation.
Oh there is something inevitable about squatting and that is the free rude awakening you can get at 4am one Thursday morning on 30th August after losing legal ‘possession’ of the place. So yeah the Black Frog residents were turfed out by bailiffs in the end, as is the end of most squatting centre stories. What can we say? There just isn’t space here to go into everything that feels like it should be said. How can we answer those great questions that came up: Are you free to do whatever you like in a free space? Why do people make a dogma out of the number of ‘local’ people coming in, or worse, what some activists call ‘normal’ people? (ho ho ho). Is it a social centre or a squatted centre? Words on a page cannot do justice to what we felt and lived at the Black Frog and we all know there’s no justice in the world.
Face to face is better, so maybe we will have these discussions at the next Black Frog…see you there! Or better still squat your own place and we will pop round for a cuppa!!
We fix. We build. We occupy. TOGETHER. Some bodies
Written by members of Camberwell Squatted Centre aka the Black Frog, which was evicted in August 2007. More info at www.56a.org.uk/warham.html. | email blackfrog [at] alphabetthreat [dot] co [dot] uk