generously seasoned with quotes from European examples
The Seomra Spraoi event in Dublin at the weekend was great. There were really lots of people talking (& itching to get started) on Irish/Dublin spacesâ€¦
Thinking about it on the train I wrote this articleâ€¦
I reckon a really important premise for starting a social centre is that you’re doing it â€˜d.i.y.â€™ (Do-it-yourselves & for yourselves). If you’re setting up a space for anyone else it’ll probably be a thankless taskâ€¦
Always when people start their own activities they start with the things they really need. Sometimes a place to come together sometimes it’s a place for their kids sometimes it’s a place for practising with bands but I think people mostly make what they need. That’s also the positive thing of squatting a space you don’t have to wait for someone else to tell you what it can be â€” you can project your own ideas.
I don’t think it’s our role as â€˜activist communitiesâ€™ to provide social space (or other services) to â€˜wider societyâ€™. That’s not to say that our actions & spaces cannot have an impact outside of our own political & social circles.
I think people are beginning to see the need for creating our own informal places were we can meet or where people can be attracted who aren’t directly in our social circles. It’s like a form of outreach about anarchist politics, community organising, & environmental politics. Without this kind of space people often donâ€™t get to know about that stuff & we’re not very good a lot of the time of communicating. So this is a nice way of getting to know new people.
I think a problematic assumption in Ireland is that people setting up a social space owe â€˜youâ€™ something. For instance â€˜youâ€™ may believe the Magpie squat in Dublin â€˜did little to advance squatting/political ideologyâ€™, but I don’t remember them making any announcements or promises saying they would. (Anyway I disagree with this assessment I know at least 2 squats in Belfast & many more around the country that were pretty much directly inspired by the Magpie House).
Even in countries with long term squatted social spaces; 9 times out of ten a new squat is a short (albeit passionate) affair. People keep opening more & learn from every experience, & occasionally they last a long time.
I thought Disco Disco was a very successful action even though we only had the squat for 25 hours. Everyone went through the process of gathering the information which I might add was 10 times harder than doing any squatting action here as here there’s 35 years of history behind us.
I think that’s the only difference between squatting here & squatting in Ireland is 35 years. Once the crew there get going there’ll be no stopping them now they have the experience & knowledge.
Amsterdam Squatter & Disco Disco Veteran
I don’t think we need to get too embroiled in debate over we should be making legal or squatted spaces, they are certainly not mutually exclusive (& it’s not as though we’d only wanna see one social centre in Dublin). For instance in Amsterdam legalised spaces hold â€˜squatting info hoursâ€™ where people can come along & get info & advice & practical help with squatting.
Giros/Warzone Centre was a rented space that existed in Belfast for 18 years, which essentially managed to pull off a lot of cool stuff, & spending 5 years of my life (hey & I’m not jaded!) organising activities there I never found the legal aspects of the place very constraining. In the end Giro’s closed because we didn’t feel like doing it anymore. (â€˜The Manâ€™ never bothered us much).
I don’t think it comes down to whether it’s a squat or a legal space. The things that are important are the people involved & what they do. If we’re doing good stuff it doesn’t matter that we’re legal even if we’re working within the system we’re still doing good stuff.
Sumac Centre: Nottingham
In the end context is everythingâ€¦
& We can always play with spaces until we find something that works for us in the places we live. We probably won’t get it â€˜rightâ€™ first time. (We’ll probably never get it â€˜rightâ€™ â€“ who wants to be â€˜rightâ€™ anyway?)
& I guess it also comes down to whatever floats your boatâ€¦
If breaking locks gets you wet & filling funding applications doesn’t you’re probably looking at a squat. If your not keen on being knocked around the head by some of our friendly boys in blue or having an exposÃ© in the Irish Star, maybe you should think about a legal spaceâ€¦
I’ll end with some words of advice for different social spacesâ€¦
It’s important to have a good group to be sure that people are really involved to have good interaction with the local people that’s very important it’s a social place it’s the kind of place to build the social links we’ve lost in the society.
International networking can be useful to share experience & share knowledge.
As far as meetings go if you try to use facilitators use structured meetings just so when emotions run high there’s a way to deal with it. Because it’s quite common when pressure mounts these group decision-making processes become very dysfunctional. So it’s good to have a facilitator who can steer a group towards decisions rather than fall apart in quarrels & arguments. I think that’s one of the most important things about working with other people in a non-hierarchical setting.
Film Academy: Amsterdam
If you’re gonna embark on the crazy adventure that is setting up a social centre you mustn’t underestimate how much work it is. We never realised how much work it would be to get the building up & running some people said if they realised how much work it was they might not have done it & they were at the very limit of their capacity. You need to have a crew of people who are not just excited about it but also have the time & energy to dedicate to the place.
Sumac Centre: Nottingham
If people are interested in doing it don’t exclude them the more people squatting the better. Be inclusive.
Don’t be afraid to do it take risks. Nothing is achieved without taking risks. After the first couple of squats are established go public start organising things have info-cafÃ©s on site. Only squat things owned by the government.
Just squat things everywhere, not to be centralised it’s easy for people to think outside Dublin there’s nothing â€” just bog. But people in Cork are ready to go for it. Go squatting in the countryside all these people that have gone to America or have died & left behind farms reclaim the streets reclaim the city. Just keep going.
Amsterdam/Disco Disco crew