Statement on Fibbers

We, the Barbican Community Centre, want to set the record straight regarding our move into Fibbers, as well as set out our vision for positive change.

Despite the false allegations from North Star, we categorically did not break into Fibbers.

We are legally squatting a commercial building, left empty and designated for demolition, for the purpose of creating a community centre that is led by local people and serves their interests. We recognise that this is an ongoing process and we welcome everyone who shares our values to join us in achieving our vision.

Squatting is part of a long history of people reclaiming what is rightfully theirs: from the Peasants Revolt in 1381 ‘claiming their rightful due’; to the Diggers in the 1600s; from the necessity of squatting following WWII; to the 1960s housing crisis; squatting has provided the necessary infrastructure for people to live when the state has failed them.

In a country where there are over 600,000 empty homes (with 225,845 being classed as ‘long-term’ empty) 1 and around 500,000 houses are second homes 9, it is a grave social injustice that roughly every 1 in 200 people in this country are homeless (280,000) 2. We fundamentally believe that all have a right to shelter and community.

We have seen so many of our community spaces that provided vital connection and support for people close down due to a lack of government funding and pressure from predatory profit-driven developers. We cannot wait for those with power to graciously hand down spaces to us when they have continuously disregarded and damaged our communities.

We stand in stark opposition to property developers buying up community venues to turn them into yet more unnecessary offices, unaffordable housing, and short-term social washing projects.

Social washing is the practice of deliberately creating a misleading picture of a company to appease the public regarding social and human rights issues and distract from their harmful practices 3. As we have seen with numerous social issues (e.g. LGBTQ+ Pride), companies will often present an appearance of briefly caring about an issue and then swiftly return to their explicitly profit-driven motives. When community spaces are created and run in this way, they often cause more harm than good.

It is our understanding from conversations with those in the community who have experience of North Star’s way of working that social washing is a practice frequently used by North Star. We therefore remain cautious of this being repeated at Fibbers.

Fibbers, like many other buildings in York, has been speculatively bought by a company and left empty for over a year. The closing of the Fibbers venue was the direct result of the planning application made by the new owners, Toft Green Developments Ltd, in association with the developers North Star 4,5. According to publicly accessible documents, North Star initially dismissed the cultural importance of Fibbers Music Venue, instead arguing that offices would be more beneficial to the City of York 6. Although pressure from Councillors has led to a vague promise to “try and help facilitate” the creation of new music venue elsewhere in the city, planning applications show no concrete evidence to support this 5,7.

North Star then claimed this week that they are intending on turning Fibbers into a music venue 8. However this is again contradicted by their planning applications for office space and demolition. If it is the case that they have U-turned as a result of our occupation, we recognise this as a step in the right direction. However we believe that if North Star genuinely want to support the community they will desist from any and all eviction processes, giving us the space and autonomy to create a grassroots community centre.

Promises are easy to make; we will judge North Star by their actions.

What we want to build goes beyond creating a music venue - as important as that is - to empowering people to run workshops, read books, share knowledge, express their creativity, and provide food and shelter for those who need it. We welcome anyone who believes in co-created and self-organised community spaces prioritising family-friendly and accessible events.

Having spent our time so far working with local joiners, carpenters, artists, musicians and other York residents to create a welcoming space, we intend on truly opening our doors to the community in the coming weeks: if you have a project that you need a space for please come and talk to us. We would love to help facilitate this.

In order for us to do this we require North Star to respect our legal right under Section 6 to live in our home without threat of illegal eviction 10; commit to providing us with a temporary use order at Fibbers; and work with us to address specific safety concerns. Any less than this would be further proof that North Star does not value community, preferring performative gestures to concrete actions, and will resort to force in order to secure their profits.

We are at crisis point on many fronts, from the housing crisis, to the mental health crisis, and the biodiversity and climate crises, all of which developers such as North Star contribute to on a large scale.

As a society we should ask ourselves; do we want to create our own culture and community, or will we allow these corporations to dictate that too?

We know what our values are, it’s time for the property developers of York to demonstrate theirs.

Notes to editors