Press Release: Save Barbican Community Centre
The Barbican Community Centre started as a spontaneous occupation of 2.2 acres of neglected brownfield land in the centre of the city of York, beside the York Barbican. This land has been left empty for 15 years by land developers in order to profit off price inflation, a practice known as land banking. In 2004, the swimming pool, creche and sauna that was on the site, which was well-used and loved by the local community, was closed, and the building was demolished in 2007. Many years later, despite promises to the contrary and a public consultation on how the land should be used, this land has stood empty and the People of York have been excluded from the site.
We, the founders of Barbican Community Centre, decided this was wrong, and decided to take matters into our own hands. We occupied this site on Tuesday 15 June, continuously occupying it from Thursday 17 June. We picked litter, made the site safe and clean, and we started turning it into a multi-purpose community space. We built a shed, made plans to make raised beds, grow vegetables, host a library and open the space to the community for all kinds of purposes. We also made it clear that it was a welcome and safe space for travellers and homeless people to stay. We believe the land should belong to the community, that it is wrong that a private company can hoard it for the profit of its shareholders. The response from local people, including city councillors and the local labour MP Rachael Maskell, was overwhelmingly positive and supportive. People donated money, labour, time and their possessions to support the project, and the project grew organically and non-hierarchically, changing shape every day.
This beautiful experiment came quickly to an end, however, as in little more than a week after this neglected land was reclaimed by the community, Persimmon Homes Ltd (the owners of the site) hired contractors who violently, and probably illegally, evicted the site. The site is now guarded by a guard dog and will soon be more heavily defended, fenced and policed. This eviction was conducted with the support and active facilitation of North Yorkshire Police, despite its dubious legality. In the process of eviction, a person was assaulted, injuring their neck and hand, which the police claimed was “reasonable force”, despite it in fact being a criminal act.
Although they left the land to rot for years, Persimmon Homes Ltd were not willing the local community to use the site for even one week. This company does not care about the welfare of the people of York; it cares about its property and the profits they provide. The police supported Persimmon, highlighting yet again that they are there to protect private property and the powerful, not ordinary people. In response to this immoral, violent and likely illegal eviction, we decided to stage a protest yesterday.
What we did and why
Yesterday, the People of York gathered outside the Barbican Community Centre at 1pm to demand that this land be returned to the people. There were speeches about the project and a space for anyone to speak on what the Barbican Community Centre and the space it occupied meant to them. There were also art activities, music and dancing. In the evening, we held an outdoor music event with a number of local artists, including a number of musicians and a poet. We called, loudly and publicly, on Persimmon Homes Ltd to stop hoarding land for private profit, and made four specific demands:
- For an immediate Compulsory Purchase Order to reclaim the land for £1 and return it to the people of York, as Persimmon Homes’ property obstructs a project which is for the “greater public good”
- For a people’s assembly to return power to the People of York via deliberative direct democracy, which will give local people the power to decide how such spaces are used
- For the cancellation of planning permission for all new hotels and luxury apartments, and for the start to a massive program of building carbon-negative social housing
- That land banking be made illegal, so that land is used for the benefit of the people and not hoarded for private profits.
When and Where
Saturday 26 June outside the Co-op supermarket on Paragon Street.
We were outside and in fresh air at all times.