Camden, London: Leisure Centre Update

Squatters have taken over a leisure centre that has been left empty for two years, pledging to turn it into a place for the community.

A group of 14 people have taken up residency in the Mornington Sports Centre, in Arlington Road, which has been vacant since being sold off by the council.

The building was due to be turned into private homes, but developers have been slowed down by wrangling over planning permission. 

Leon James is one of the North London Squatting Collective who settled into the building at the beginning of this month. He said: “On Tuesday we had an open meeting for people in the community to let us know their ideas, and people suggested yoga, fencing, and body movement classes. Already, actors are using the space for theatre performances and circus skills. It’s an amazing space and so far everything has been running smoothly. It’s got a basement, a basketball court and a gymnasium.”

Mr James said the collective planned to leave the building when developers were ready to use it, and said the same group had been squatting other buildings in Kentish Town and Camden Town for the past year. They were also involved in the occupation of the Friern Barnet Library and The Bohemia Community Centre in Barnet.

“We have eight full-time artists living in the squat and many of us are community activists, so what we do with the building will be marrying those two things together,” added Mr James.

“Personally, I’m hoping our work will break down the atomisation of society. Neighbours want to meet each other, but a lot of people aren’t given that chance. We want to create a community within the geographical area but also with interest groups.

“A lot of people are doing admirable work in this community. But our way is squatting, and that comes from a feeling of urgency to get something done. The squatters in Kentish Town’s old Pizza Express have the same aim.”

He added that everyone in the collective was supporting themselves with work, study, or selling art.

“There are pros and cons to this,” he said.

“If we’d done this the bureaucratic way there would have been a lot of paper work to deal with and it may have been so slow we wouldn’t have got to use the space.

“On the other hand, this way we don’t know how long we’ll have here because it depends on when the developers get planning permission.”

Joe Sowerbutts, an actor who lives in Arlington Road, approached the collective to use the building as a performance space.

“We’re putting on a Greek tragedy which will run in the building for a week in April. It’s next to impossible to find a central London space like this for community use. It’s a very socially responsible use.

“After us, another theatre company will be putting on a play about homelessness.”

On Saturday, the public can attend an art exhibition in the squat. It will feature work from artists all over London, as well as theatre and circus performances from 8pm onwards.

Danny Lynch, a spokesman for developers A2Dominion, said: “We can confirm we own the site at Mornington Crescent and are currently awaiting the outcome of a planning application. Should our application be successful we will commence the redevelopment works immediately.”

Source: Camden New Journal