Hackney, London: New social centre coming soon & statement from 195 Mare Street collective

We are delighted to announce that there is a new home for the social centre.  The new location is conveniently close to the previous building, and will be revealed when we are ready to launch.

There is scope to continue many of the activities that occurred at Mare St, such as free shop, social/info evenings, language classes, reading groups, meetings, art classes, people’s kitchen, queer events, screenings and much more.   Confirmed opening times and the timetabling of activities will follow shortly.

If you would like to get involved with any of the above, or have other proposals for the use of the space, please send a message via the contact form on the website.  Feedback is also essential; we welcome constructive critique.

Some items were not recovered from the eviction, such as furniture, kitchen equipment (especially cups) and clothes for free shop.  We are also collecting tat for migrants in Calais.  If you can donate, please get in touch.

The building is warm, bright, and will be accessible for wheelchair users.

Keep updated: http://socialcentre.org.uk

Statement from 195 Mare Street

195 Mare Street was a squatted social centre in the heart of Hackney. The building, a Grade II* listed Georgian villa remains the second oldest surviving building in Hackney.

The owners served us with High Court Papers on Monday (9/12/13) and we had a court date for Friday (13/12/13). The case was heard very quickly, by a judge who seemed to have already made up his mind before the hearing even started. In the end we lost the case. The owners of the building have now taken the building out of the hands of the community, either to leave it again to rot in disrepair, (as was the case before we moved in,) or to demolish this important part of Hackney’s history.  The eviction was relatively brief. We attempted to resist, however the bailiffs smashed down the heritage listed front door with sledgehammers, forcing us out. We had been able to take most of our important social centre equipment to a safe place before the eviction, so not much was lost. Interestingly enough, Jim Casey, one of the developers who attempted to illegally evict us in October, was also there during the eviction. He personally helped them to smash in the door. This would be his second attempt, his first being an illegally attempted eviction in September.

Before it was squatted, 195 had many lives. Built in 1699, it was originally one of the many family homes along Mare St. In 1845 the building was taken over and used as the Elizabeth Fry Institute for the Reformation of Women Prisoners. This was closed in 1913. Up until 2003 it was used as a working men’s club. Since 2003, the building moved through the hands of many different developers. So far no work has been done on the building. The building was left in disrepair, with ceilings caving in, roofs leaking, floors crumbling, steps collapsing and many other problems, until a group of squatters moved in in 2009. This group of squatters was evicted in 2010, and in the time they were in the building they did many necessary repairs that had been until then ignored by the owners. From 2010 until August 2013 the building was again left to rot. As the most recent residents, we did our best to fix the building and had accomplished a lot in the short time we had been there. We respected the heritage of the house by not changing any of the façade or the original protected features.

We opened a social centre on the ground floor of the building. The social centre was open to the public four days a week, offering a space for anyone to come in for a cup of tea and a chat. We have ran many ongoing projects. An art exhibition ran once a week for upcoming locals artists to showcase their works – a rare thing for young artists who are just starting out and may not have the portfolio or networks to let them showcase in other galleries. One night per week we hosted a People’s Kitchen and a cinema night. The People’s Kitchen made delicious, healthy vegan food for dozens of people every week. The cinema night brought large groups of people to the space to come together to watch films and documentaries. We have had directors come in to show their films followed by discussion groups. This enabled people to meet the film-makers and involve themselves in this cultural activity where they would otherwise not have had the chance to do so. Well-known UK directors Ariel Pintor and Ken Fero have both shown their works at 195.

195 was a safe place for people of all genders and sexualities. There was a queer reading group for people to study and talk about texts and ideas together in a non-judgmental and open environment. A weekly queer cinema night was also held. An integral part of the 195 Social Centre was the Language School. It offered classes in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Italian and Arabic. The language school was in constant operation throughout the week and had a steady flow of students and teachers. The classes were all free or by donation; open to anyone who would like to learn. We had one week dedicated to being a Free School during which hundreds of people passed through the doors. The week of workshops, classes and seminars was open to anyone interested in the subjects offered. Over 50 activities, workshops and discussions took place, with subjects ranging from critical cartography to queer tango, housing information, benefits advice, juggling, dj workshops, meditation, yoga, krav maga, kickboxing, parkour, bike repair, welding, home brewing and many other workshops.

The 195 Social Centre was an integral and necessary part of the Hackney Community.