Friday, 27 September 2013

Antic Bohemia: occupied and ... about to re-open

Meet the new landlords: yep, it's a free house ...

Yes: here we go again. 

Back to the fabled fault line of North Finchley high road, the place that acts as a powerhouse of rebellion, here in Broken Barnet. And back to one particular form of rebellion that has worked so successfully here - the occupation and reclamation of a much loved community asset.

The Antic Bohemia is, or was, and hopefully will be again, an indy pub in the centre of North Finchley, a fabulous venue, dark and cavernous, furnished in idiosyncratic shabby chic style, with mismatched furniture, long wooden trestle tables, old school chairs, scruffy sofas with sagging upholstery, lit by vintage chandeliers and 1930s lampshades. It had a unique atmosphere, and had become established as not just another pub, more of a meeting place for friends and local groups, and a venue for the odd performance and musical events. 

One day this summer, with no prior warning, the doors of the Bohemia were shut, and a notice informed customers that the business was closed. There was an immediate reaction of universal dismay, leading to a well supported campaign, supported by a petition of nearly a thousand signatures, easily collected in a short time. The landlords took no notice, however, and the premises remained firmly shut, a horrible reminder, in the middle of the high road, of the continuing threat to the survival of our local town centres. Rumours abounded that the site was to be sold to developers, or reopened as a Tesco Express, or Harvester. This infuriated local residents who simply wanted their local pub returned, a place for the community to meet.

This morning, to everyone's surprise news broke that the Bohemia had been occupied, by squatters/activists associated with the People's Library in Friern Barnet. Mrs Angry received an invitation from Phoenix, veteran occupier and community activist, to visit the new enterprise: so off she went. I suppose I have to do the dishwasher then, said Miss Angry, primly, by now used to her feckless mother rushing off, at the drop of a hat, to join dreadlocked activists in community squats. If it's not too much trouble, Miss A, agreed her embarrassing mum.

Mrs Angry was greeted by Phoenix, Mordechai, Daniel and Petra, ushered in through the back doors - and was very happy to sign the first name in their visitors' book.

The first reaction was one of the enormous size of the vacant property, and the sheer brutality of the clean out operation of the departed tenants: fittings ripped from the walls, chipping plaster, debris and discarded items left everywhere: glasses with the dregs of drinks left in the summer. Ironically, it will be the conscientious occupiers who will dutifully tidy all this up, with help from supporters in the community, who are already offering food and other essentials to the new residents.

Plans for the reborn pub include a wide range of activities, from live music, theatre, cabaret, open mike evenings, stand up - and karaoke. The accoustics of the place are perfect for live music and performance,  in fact. Two of the occupiers, Mordechai and Daniel, have a background in performance and theatre: Mordechai (making a silly face, below) is the former director of the Budapest Jewish Theatre. 

Local groups will be welcome to meet there, as they used to - and new ventures offered a new home. It might even be, Mrs Angry suggested, the perfect opportunity to provide a genuine home for community arts, in contrast to the introspective activities of the local Artsdepot, whose management seems to prefer to exist at one remove from the surrounding area.
On behalf of the occupiers Phoenix said that their intention was to help restore the Bohemia as a community centre, as well as mark their protest about the new proposals to criminalise squatting in commercial properties. The government will not risk consultation over the latest proposed legislation, of course, as the feedback from the earlier preparation for the recent criminalisation of squatting in residential properties represented a massive objection to the move, with representatives as wide ranging as the police and legal aid representatives expressing their concerns. 

The scandalous truth is that while so many people face another winter of homelessness, countless vacant properties stand empty and unused, left to deriorate and provide speculative investment for developers, while our city centres, at night, are populated by desperate human beings sleeping in the street, or in shop doorways. 

Only this summer, after late night shopping, waiting for a bus just around the corner from the luxury retail heaven of Selfridges, I watched an old man, dressed in the worn but clearly once elegant clothing he had brought with him from a better time in his life, slowly, with great dignity and precision, deconstruct a number of large cardboard boxes, and carefully realign them into a makeshift shelter in the dubious sanctuary of the marble pillared portico of a Victorian townhouse. The contrast between west end affluence and night time poverty was as extreme as you could imagine. It was a shameful, and deeply poignant sight, and I felt compelled to sneak a photograph, whilst trying to preserve his anonymity.

And this, Mr Freer, and Mr Weatherley and all your Tory chums who think squatting is so morally repugnant, is where the focus of your outrage should properly belong.

But it is not just for the purpose of housing that we need to reclaim the vast numbers of empty properties: when our communities are under threat from development, and the places where we meet to reinforce that sort of community, we need to take a stand against such exploitation, and fight back. 

This is the new Bohemia, then: occupied, soon to re-open: a community fighting back.



Justin Murphy said...

This is fucking great. I just moved to the UK to take a post at University of Southampton but I'm really interested in getting involved in stuff like this in the UK (coming out of OWS and all of that). I'm going to follow this blog...

Don't Call Me Dave said...

So let’s get this right. If a councillor breaks the law, he should be hung drawn and quartered. But if a bunch of leftys break the law, that’s OK because, as we all know, all property is theft.

By supporting an illegal act, your credibility as a blogger is wiped out. Your true colours are revealed. You socialists are so consumed with hatred and jealousy for other people who dare to think and act differently to you, that you presume it is OK to take the law into your own hands.

This is not a publicly owned property. If the lawful owners want to change its use, they are entitled to do so, subject to the requisite planning regulations. If the pub had been commercially viable, it would still be open. But that is irrelevant.

In America, being an accessory to a crime is a crime in itself. It is a pity that we don’t have a similar law over here. Then we could not only lock up the criminals who are occupying this property, but everyone else who had prior knowledge of the occupation and did nothing to prevent it. Next time you bleat on about councillors breaking the law, just bear in mind that you have just admitted to trespassing.

Mrs Angry said...

What is wrong with you? What a horrible and unnecessarily aggressive comment.

First of all, the occupation is not an illegal act: to be such there would have had to be a break in, rather than open access.

Thank you for trying to have me arrested for reporting this story: please ring up the Barnet Press and tell Dan O'Brien to hand himself in to the old Bill for the same reason. Perhaps we could share a cell together, which would serve him right.

I realise that you Tories prefer us to live in a totalitarian state, where you control what is and is not reported, but I am perfectly entitled to write about this development, and indeed I think my 'credibility' would have been compromised if I had not.

I have not admitted to trespassing,as I have done no such thing and was invited in by the occupiers, and I was there only to report the incident and take pictures. Your insinuation that I knew about it beforehand is completely untrue: I heard about it on twitter via @buzzinghelen, and then via texts from others.

If by 'bleating on about councillors breaking the law' you are seeking to compare this development to the assault of a woman in a public street, then there is something awfully wrong with your judgement.

I think an apology would be in order, in the circumstances.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

So the occupiers are there with the owner’s permission? You do really write some rubbish these days.

You know full well that I am not a Tory, but as I have mentioned many times, you do not seem to let facts get in the way of a good smear. It is the left that tries to control what people can say and think, and anyone who dares to think differently must be crushed. You can write what you like, but if you write something that other people think is rubbish, then they have a right to say so – unless you intend to censor opposing views.

Your post was not restricted to reporting the facts, or even just expressing sadness/concern at the loss of a local venue. You went as far as to give the occupiers suggestions as to future use for the building. The future use of the property should be determined by the owners, and nobody else. If they come up with a use that public do not like, they will stay away and it will have to change into something else. That’s how it works in the real world. It is not up to a bunch of lefties to usurp the lawful owner’s plans – however much you may disagree with them.

Where exactly did I state that you had prior knowledge? Some people (unbeknown to me) clearly did, and I am entitled to express my view that they should be held to account. Perhaps one day you will bother to read what I write. The fact remains that you were not there with the owner’s permission. If the journalists were also trespassing, well more fool them.

But thank you for effectively confirming that you consider it OK to commit offences which are not considered as serious as others. Society functions really well when we can pick and choose the laws to obey.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I can't help feeling that this just makes the property even less attractive to anyone looking to re-open it as a going concern.

It's hard enough (re)opening a pub in the current economic climate - what business is going to want to take on a commercial property that has the added "bonus" of squatters?

Might be a noble cause, but it's not exactly helping restore a pub to us.

Mrs Angry said...

Anonymous: remove from your mind the preconception of what 'squatters' are: these occupiers worked very hard in the library case to facilitate the best outcome for local residents. They are not there for their own interests but genuinely believe they can help find solutions for communities: it is already a fact that by using a new law passed by a Tory government a pub or other local enterprise can be identified as a community asset: this is a comparable aspiration. I believe that the occupiers would be happy to see a similar set up to what was there previously takeover, and I don't see why anyone would object to that: the Bohemia did not, as some are saying fail due to lack of business, but due to arguments between tenants and owners. What none of us want to see is another betting shop, or supermarket chain move in, or to see the property lie vacant.

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD: yet another unnecessarily unpleasant set of accusations: really ... please do not pretend you were until recently a very active Tory, and indeed were Chair of the Chipping Barnet Conservative Association.

The fact that I publish your comments demonstrates clearly that I am not going to censor criticism, but there is no need to be offensive. I refer you to my reply to 'Anonymous' regarding community assets and remind you that with so many pubs closing, we should fight to retain those that are a vital part of our communities.

I see I must remind you that even if I had committed trespass, which I have not, this is a civil matter, and not a criminal offence. I think that Mitchell and Butler will forgive me my blogging trespasses, in any case, unlike you.

And yes, I think that in certain circumstances civil disobedience or direct action is the only honourable course to follow, and no, I am not going to apologise for that.

classicdish said...

"Simply being on another person’s non-residential property without their permission is not usually a crime."

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

You always present your argument in forthright terms and I present mine in a similarly robust fashion. You are, however, well aware that you have chosen not to publish a number of my comments in the dim and distant past. I believe that you are the only one of the Barnet Bloggers to moderate comments before publication. But this is all a sight red herring. I respect your right to be wrong without hesitation. Similarly, I have no quarrel with your standing up to injustices, perceived or genuine. But there is a clear distinction between supporting a noble cause and condoning the unlawful occupation of private property.

You can make an argument that in the case of Friern Barnet library, it was a publicly owned asset which some well-meaning people were trying to defend. But this situation is entirely different. Once society allows private property rights to be trampled over, we are well on the way to anarchy.

As for my political allegiances, I do not deny, and have never denied, that I was once the Chairman of the Chipping Barnet Conservatives. But I resigned from that position eight years ago in protest at the conduct of certain Tory councillors. I resigned from the Conservative Party in 2009 in protest at the direction in which Cameron was leading the Party. The Conservatives today are not the same as the Party that I joined many years ago. I am no longer a Conservative. I doubt very much whether I will ever re-join the party, even if it returns to traditional Conservative values. I am undeniably right wing. I believe in the rule of law and true democratic accountability. I have underlying libertarian instincts. But none of this makes me a Tory!

Anonymous said...

Friern Barnet library would be flats by now if it wasn't for these same people reopening it - a building given to the community in 1938 by the Carnegie Trust.

“Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.”
― Howard Zinn

Anonymous said...

"I believe that the occupiers would be happy to see a similar set up to what was there previously takeover, and I don't see why anyone would object to that"

I'm just looking at it from a commercial point of view. If I was looking to take over the site and run it as a pub, the fact that it's now "occupied" would have me walking away, regardless of how benevolent and fluffy the occupiers may be. It is at the very least yet another party to negotiate with, to try and persuade them to let you move in.

Mrs Angry said...

Anonymous commenters,maybe use a pseudonym: it's hard to answer your points otherwise ...

Anonymous 8.14, the sort of buyer who would be deterred is more likely to be exactly the ones who would be least welcome, eg the betting shops. Tesco Express, or yet another chain coffee place ... if the property had become listed as a community asset the situation regarding tenancy would be even more proscribed.

As for you DCMD: my posts maybe expressed in strong and colourful words, but I have never directed such unasked for hostility to the writer of another blog, especially one with whom I imagined myself to be on cordial terms.But then, you right wing (former) Tories always excuse your excesses as 'robustness'.

The only time I have ever not published a comment from you is when you have made a remark I consider to be potentially defamatory, and I am right to do so. As the publisher of this blog I would be held responsible for any false allegations and I am not prepared to take that risk. If you want to make such comments, do it on your own blog, chum.

With a sense of tedium, let me remind you that you define the occupation of the empty property as - oh, not 'criminal', now but 'unlawful'. That is yet to be established, I think.

Many larger 'unlawful' acts go unremarked, do they not, such as the unlawful failure to consult residents on the One Barnet privatisation?

Of course unlawful acts by cynical,lazy Tory councillors in Marks & Spencers suits are so much more palatable than those committed by someone with dreadlocks and a passionate commitment to social justice, aren't they?

Mrs Angry said...

PS: Anonymous 8.14: are you thinking about opening a pub in North Finchley? Should I put you in touch with Phoenix et al? Put me down for a job as a bar maid/land lady - I quite fancy the idea of being the occupy movement's answer to Barbara Windsor.

DCMD: you're barred son: get your coat.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

Mrs Angry

You seem to be incapable of accepting that, on this occasion, you are simply on the wrong side of the argument. There is nothing wrong in lamenting the loss of a local business. There is something completely wrong in condoning the occupation of a property without the lawful owner’s consent. The people who are in occupation without consent need only damage or remove one minor fixture or fitting, and they will have committed criminal damage. I cannot be responsible for your lack of knowledge of property law, but common sense should tell you that their actions are completely wrong – however community spirited you might believe them to be. The ends do not justify the means.

My anger at this particular post above all your others is because you have simply lost all objectivity, which undermines your credibility. None of your Labour councillor friends are running to support you on this. I passionately believe in the role of good strong opposition in government (local and national) and that is why I have always offered moral support to Barnet’s bloggers of a left-leaning persuasion, even if I disagreed with their message. I do not consider this personal, and I have great respect for the way you have hitherto argued your case but, on this occasion, I believe that you have let down the cause of reasoned objection. This is exemplified by your ‘M&S’ jibe. You are well aware that I have always spoken out against politicians who do not comply with the law – irrespective of their political affiliation.

I cannot support your blog any further if you continue to think that it is acceptable to trample over the rights of property owners who have done nothing unlawful.

Mrs Angry said...

Ha! DCMD! I see my credibility loss has been downgraded from lost to undermined. Marvellous news.

There is no argument on which to take sides. I have reported what has happened. I did not know about beforehand, if I had, I may have had to think if it is a good thing, or a bad thing, or something in between, or something we cannot predict. As it has happened, I embrace it as a stopgap in the otherwise inevitable development by some ghastly chain, or years of pointless vacancy.

You are right, though. I have moved beyond the point of all decency by my reference to M&S suits. Thank F*ck I made no unseemly reference to the greying Y fronts,malodorous socks and/or athletic supports worn by your former fellow Tory activists, also purchased at the same retail outlet.

On this basis alone, you are perfectly correct to withdraw your formal certificate of approval from my blog. I can only hang my reprehensible - no, criminal - head in shame and retire from the world of the citizen journalist, all credibility, integrity, broken, and trampled into the dust, a figure heaped with scorn, like Damian McBride, but without the consolation of serial rights in the Daily Mail.*

Goodbye, Broken Barnet.

*Speaking of which, stand by for the last post: Mrs Angry's Brighton Beach memoirs.

Bill said...

Frankly I don't give a monkey's whether the occupation is legal or illegal. The day The Bohemia closed, North Finchley lost a tremendous community asset. I'm prefectly happy to see it reopen under (almost) any management provided it can keep that community vibe intact,

Anonymous said...

Mrs Angry, who needs Don't Call Me dave's approval. He is a narrow minded UKIP bigot

Real libertarian said...

"Once society allows private property rights to be trampled over, we are well on the way to anarchy."

Mrs Angry said...

Anonymous 14.40: Mrs Angry welcomes even UKIP members to Broken Barnet, as she enjoys upsetting them. Please don't spoil my fun. I think DCMD belongs to no one but his own party, however.

Real Libertarian: is that you, Mr Shepherd?