Reposted from The Right to Stay Put
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Since we first started meeting and organising for this project people have come and gone as their commitments have fluctuated, and the team has grown and shrunk as a result. But unfortunately over the Christmas period much more people left than joined (understandably) and we were left with only 4 live-in crew members. Despite putting the call out for more crew this hasn’t changed, which makes running a full-time social centre impossible, especially since 2 of the remaining 4 now feel like they really need a break as well. It’s been a lot of work and things haven’t gone perfectly by any means, but lately I’d been feeling optimistic that we would eventually achieve our goal of having a decentralised social and political platform for queers in London.
But yeah, here’s the plan. We’re not going away. We’re gonna take another run at this in the form of a pop-up…
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We need to add contact details, but you can download a pdf of a brief leaflet covering the successful Victorstone dispute here: victorstonecase
Due to it’s size it should fit neatly into Solfed’s Stuff Your Landlord: http://solfed.org.uk/?q=solfed/new-stuff-your-landlord-leaflet
We’re hoping to distribute copies of this at the Islington Starbucks Housing Teach-in this Saturday. The text is below …
The Victorstone dispute – a direct action casework success
Recently Housing Solidarity, with other groups including Solfed, Staines
Anarchists and London IWW, organised a successful campaign to reclaim
money off an opportunistic letting agent, on behalf of 3 tenants.
3 tenants rented a property through Victorstone in Shoreditch, paying £3,451
as rent and deposit. Victorstone fell out with the landlords over the fees they
would take and the landlord changed the locks, just after the tenants had
The tenants had no real desire to explore whether there was scope to talk the
landlord into reestablishing the tenancy. The aim was to get the possessions
back and have all the money returned. The difficulty was the landlord and
Victorstone each had part of the money. Victorstone had made it clear they
considered the landlord wholly responsible for the situation and intended to
keep £1200 as their fee.
Step 1: Gaining access to the flat to get the belongings
The first step was to access the belongings, as these were of greatest value to
the tenants. To do this it was decided to make a request to the landlord for
access, giving the impression that this was simply to remove belongings. The
landlord agreed to this arrangement after some evasive discussion.
Outside the flat the tenants were asked to sign a statement, which appeared to
be an attempt to nulify the tenancy. The tenants refused and some strong words
saw the keys handed over pretty quickly and they had access to the flat.
Step 2: Reclaiming the money from the landlord
Once in possession of the flat, it was decided to demand the return of all the
money the landlord had or we would stay in the flat. We didn’t make this
demand until we were in the place, so as not to jeapordise step 1. The landlord
was told to make a bank transfer to the tenants and then send a screen shot of
the confirmation via email. When this was done the tenants left.
Step 3: reclaiming the remaining money from Victorstone.
Now we began to talk to Victorstone. Following the strategy of escalation we
began small with a few people calling and emailing. After a while they started
putting up barriers to the conversation, such as refusing to speak to anyone
except the tenants, or saying their hands were tied by legal advice.
Next 3 of us paid them a visit. Victorstone are quite hotheaded so it was
relatively easy to get them wound up. Within 10 minutes of calling them
thieves and similar they were calling the police and physically threatening us.
We left so they had to deal with the police and we didn’t, as dealing with the
police is a lottery and tedious at best.
Next we issued an ultimatum and published it on a blog, giving them about 48
hours to pay up or we’d take ‘further action’. We circulated plans for a 2 hour
communications blockade on private email lists so Victorstone wouldn’t find
it by googling their name. Then the evening before the action when we set up
a facebook group with all the email addresses, phone and fax numbers that
we’d managed to collect for various Victorstone offices.
When the deadline expired the barrage began, including totally black faxes,
fake enquiries that dragged on before turning into complaints, as well as
straightforward complaints coming from the tenants and their friends. After an
hour and a half Victorstone called up one of the tenants asking for their bank
account details to transfer the money.
Victorstone had put up exactly the kind of smokescreen that would have put
most tenants off. The tenants had already spoken to the council who were
unhelpful, and had discovered a court case would likely take months with an
uncertain outcome. As campaigners we were able to help the tenants through
the whole process and at the same time use the tactics we want to see
As this was a use of direct action tactics to support individuals, it can be
thought of as an example of direct action casework. We believe this can be a
stepping stone to wider collective action for networks that are just getting
started. At the same time it has a place in longterm struggle defending
individuals against exploitation.
[This article was originally written for The Staines Howler, the mouthpiece of Staines Anarchists http://stainesanarchists.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/howler-autumn-20122.pdf]
S.t.a.i.n.e.s. – that’s it
“shouldn’t this be the ‘Staines-upon-Thames Howler’ now?”
Well… no. Probably not too surprisingly we’re not very keen on the attempt to repaint Staines as somewhere upmarket, and we’re not alone if some of the masking tape covering ‘upon Thames’ on one roadsign we’ve spotted is anything to go by.
There’s real reasons behind our hatred though, beyond resenting the attempt to make the town sound like it belongs to them instead of us.
Rebranding like this is done for a reason. That’s to make the town more sellable. Something which has been picked up quite quickly in the circles it was aimed at. If you type the words ‘staines-upon-thames’ and ‘guardian’ into google, you’ll find an article from their ‘Let’s move to…’ section which reviews the town for the perspective of someone browsing for a new place to buy a house. Their tip? A “Three-bedroom cottage with garden, near the town centre, [for] £227,500” with estate agents Gregory Brown. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/aug/17/lets-move-staines-upon-thames)
So, more people interested in the area. That’s got to be a good thing right? Well… not exactly. At least not from our perspective.
If you’re lucky enough to own property in Staines(-upon-Thames) then it’s possible you might benefit from seeing the theoretical value of your house rise. One benefit being you could sell up and leave. We’d miss you, we really would.
Alternatively, if you live in Staines but don’t own your own home then this upward pressure on house prices, also known as inflation, is bad news. As people are now willing to pay more for your home than you already do, your landlord might cotton on and ask you to pay more.
If richer people move into the area inflation won’t just affect house prices. When these yuppies start strolling around Staines’ town centre they’ll be looking for somewhere to buy their clothes and maybe T.K. Maxx or the charity shops aren’t really what they’re looking for. There’s two things that might happen here: either the shops that are already here start selling more expensive stock, meaning you can’t afford it – or if they don’t they won’t be able to afford the new rents that are being charged now new shops are interested in setting up here, like Selfridges, which you won’t be able to afford to shop in.
The term that’s used for this process is gentrification, because from the word ‘gentry’, which is another word for the rich. The process is built in to the way the world is set up. Because housing and pretty much everything else is distributed through ‘markets’, if someone richer decides they want what you have they can pretty much take it. They just have to outbid you. Especially because we hardly own anything.
There are anti-gentrifcation campaigns all over the world. One way to resist is to put off the gentry, to send out a message that this isn’t the kind of place they want to live. Ultimately though we want the places we live to be desireable, we just don’t want them to be taken from us as soon as someone else decides they like them. This means we need to challenge the system that says everything is for sale if the price is right.
We need to make it clear that Staines is not for sale.