Save the Aldgate Bauhaus

My old alma mater is under threat. London Metropolitan University (formed from a merger between City of London Polytechnic and the Polytechnic of North London) is proposing to close all the sites of the old City Poly campus around Aldgate and relocate all courses to the Holloway Road campus (the old North London Poly).

For me this is basically shutting down my beloved City Poly – where I learnt so much more than Politics. It’s where I formed a (terrible) band and made my first film (ironically about saving Central House – featured in my video above). It’s where my student mates included a 45-year old ex-armed robber, a gay indie pop star, and a retired trade union shop steward. As an 18-year old fresh out of A-Levels I was in the minority with the bulk of the student body made up of ‘non-traditional’ students. The handful of public school kids formed a protective posse before they learnt that the great unwashed were actually quite civilised.

Being in the East End at such a tender age was an education in itself. At night I used to sit and share a can of Tenants Super with the men outside the Salvation Army Hostel. We learnt about the Battle of Cable Street not in the classroom but on Cable Street itself. We munched salt beef bagels and Lamb Balti – all new tastes for my provincial palette.

But this protest isn’t about my memories – it’s about the destruction of a precious historic educational institution in the heart of London’s East End – a University that has strong ties to one of the most under-privileged Boroughs in the country. It will mean the closure of totally unique courses such as the BSc Musical Instrument Making, shown in the video, the only course of its kind in Europe and possibly the world. This will have a profound effect on musical instrument production in Britain.

The Arts subjects taught at The Cass School of Art and Architecture will be crammed into smaller spaces – the unique fusion of Arts disciplines that happens at the Aldgate Building will be lost. It seems crazy to close an Art School in the East End of London – a globally recognised centre of contemporary art – even if you calculate the value of education in purely commercial terms you’d have to recognise what a fantastic asset that is.

Cranes crowd the skyline all around the university. These buildings are prime real estate – they’ll be demolished and tower blocks raised in their place. Where there was an art school will become a block of luxury apartments, where there was the Dept. of Humanities at Calcutta House will become some other form of monstrosity. It is part of the hollowing out of London – the gutting of its life and culture for the sake of a quick return.

Please watch the video and also sign the petition to Save the Cass.

Is this the Future of London?

For a few brief days back in June an exhibition at Red Gallery gave us a glimpse into the horror show about to be unleashed upon London by developers. Reclaim London’s, Ubiquitous Unique simply consisted of a series of architectural elevations submitted to local authority planning committees. Beneath were some of the claims made in support of the schemes:

“Contributes to the enhancement or creation of local distinctiveness”

“The proposals seek to respect the form, scale and grain of the surrounding townscape, and will make a positive contribution to the character of the area.”

Orwellian gobblegook interchangeable between projects, a pick-a-mix of sterile marketing speak completely at odds with the uniformity of what was on offer, buildings that could be just about anywhere from Shanghai to a ring-road in Houston.

Viva Sweetstopia! London’s newest microstate

The other week I returned to the Sweets Way Estate in the London Borough of Barnet to visit Sweetstopia – a newly declared microstate.

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I was greeted by Daniel, who I’d first met at the Sweets Way Sleepover back in March, and it seems that Daniel has been busy since, helping to establish Sweetstopia with a collective of permaculture practitioners, bohemians, artists, squatters and activists. And two dogs – one of which is President of Sweetstopia.

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The idealism of Sweetstopia in the face of the barbarism of the destruction of the estate by Annington Homes is seductive. They continue to pursue their mission of creative resistance and promoting sustainability and autonomy while being aggressively intimidated by the private security guards who patrol the estate and stalk the Sweetstopia residents. One Sweetstopian was violently assaulted by a security guard last week and required medical treatment. The authorities are clearly rattled by such a bold display of utopianism.

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There are echoes of the microstates of Leytonstonia and Wanstonia that grew out of the M11 Link Road protests in the early 90’s. Then it was anti-road protests – today the housing struggle and estate regeneration is the new battlefront.

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Link Road veteran Ian Bourn recounted how there was a vote to use carrots as currency in Leytonstonia – because they could be sliced into coin like discs and also the militant vegans were pushing the idea. A similar air of playful eccentricity infuses Sweetstopia – you are invited to make your own passport which is then validated with an official potato stamp.

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The only rules in Sweetstopia are – NO KNITTING AFTER DARK and DON’T FEED THE UNICORNS – I saw neither knitting needles nor Unicorns so it seems to be working. Daniel told me there would be no laws only traditions.

Long may Sweetstopia prosper and grow.

 

Community regeneration at Sweets Way

On Tuesday I returned to Sweets Way in the London Borough of Barnet. I first visited the estate back in March when a combination of residents and activists hosted a sleepover in protest at the eviction of around 140 families by Annington Homes who planned to demolish the estate to make way for luxury apartments.

Now the families have gone, dispersed throughout the borough and further afield. But that night in March an occupation of some of the empty homes started and is still going strong.

I went to witness the make-over of one of the houses that Barnet Homes and Annington had deemed unfit and scheduled for demolition. A community-led team have now completed a beautiful renovation using donated and recycled materials. It’s hoped that it will prove a riposte the lie that sits at the heart of so-called estate regeneration, the process that sees communities broken up and public housing stock transferred to the private sector on the basis that it is financially unviable to renovate the estates.

What is being done at Sweets Way could spread across London – communities working together to save their homes.

 

Read more about the Sweets Way Show Home here

“No recession of the imagination” – March Against Austerity

The atmosphere at March Against Austerity was positive and enthusiastic – laughing into the gaping jaws of Tory Austerity. I went along with Bob and Roberta Smith with his brilliant ‘Art For All’ painted placard. We soon wound through the crowds assembled outside the Bank of England to find the Arts Emergency bloc where comedian Josie Long supported one end of a banner. Actor Samuel West came over to say a few words, and Green Party Councillor and potential Mayoral candidate Caroline Russell gave a great interview, declaring that “Austerity is economically illiterate’.

 

Remember Chelsea Manning – legal appeal latest news

I was invited to a lunchtime talk given by Nancy Hollander, lawyer for Chelsea Manning and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, in conversation with human-rights Lawyer Jennifer Robinson. Given that the best way I know how to lend my support to causes I sympathise with is by using my camera I took it along just in case it came in handy. At the end of the talk, which included some discussion of Seymour Hersh’s recently published article in the London Review of Books about the true story behind the killing of Osama Bin Laden, I managed to grab a quick interview with Nancy about the Chelsea Manning case.

 

Continue reading…

Rocking on the rooftops to Save London

Here’s my latest Drift Report – a rooftop protest gig by The Bermondsey Joyriders on top of the old Foyles Building in Charing Cross Road (the same one that had a big display for This Other London in the window) organised by Henry Scott-Irvine of the Save Tin Pan Alley Campaign.

Sign the petition to Save Tin Pan Alley here