Putting Up A Resistance

Continuing with my plan to slowly publish old articles of mine long since disappeared from the internet, here’s another one! Published on 1st November 2005 on the now-defunct Black Information Link (Blink) website:

RASTAFARIANS AND other residents of London’s oldest squatted street promised to resist bailiffs and police to protect their unique community. 

St Agnes Place, in Kennington south London, has been home to an established community since 1974.

In the 1970’s Bob Marley frequently stayed in the street which is home to the International Rastafarian headquarters.

Over existing 200 residents, who fear homelessness, have vowed to resist attempts by Lambeth Council to remove them.

Tomorrow morning several residents are expected to gather at Lambeth County Court to oppose moves by the council who want permission to demolish 21 terraced Victorian houses and evict the residents.

Residents of St Agnes Place, bordered by Kennington Park, successfully fought off bailiffs in October 2003. They are determined to protect a way of life that has flourished for over 30 years.

In addition to a Rastafarian Temple, the focal point for many Rastas in south London, the street is also home to a community centre that has hosted many festivals and art exhibitions.

Last month Brixton Town Hall won a court decision declaring the properties unlawfully occupied.

Lawyers for the residents claimed they were not squatters, as the council claimed, because they were welcomed into an already well-established community.

Although many residents joined the street after the abolition of ‘squatters rights’ legislation in 1983, their solicitor David Thomas unsuccessfully argued that they qualified for ‘inherited possession’.

In the late 1980’s Lambeth council offered residents a long-term lease on the properties at peppercorn rent – an offer rejected at the time.

Leading figures in St Agnes Place say this proves the council were prepared to accept them as a permanent feature of the borough. Lambeth had also given grants to St Agnes Place community centre. 

Senior regeneration officer Peter Drake, who is leading Lambeth’s attempts to evict the residents, has claimed that the street is crime-ridden.

But community leaders counter-claim that police are refusing to patrol the street making it a safe-haven for criminals from outside to come in and deal drugs.

George James, a Rastafarian resident, said: “The council have been putting out false and misleading statements to try and get us out. We have been left to deal with the crime ourselves. Most people on the street are completely peaceful. We are one family.”

On 19 October Lambeth County Court gave the council permission to execute a bailiffs warrant from today, 1st November. The council say they will assess residents eligibility for rehousing but many are convinced they would be homeless.

A council spokesman said: “The council [want] to redevelop the area to provide new social housing for local families, improved leisure facilities, and better public access to the open spaces in Kennington Park, which encompasses the site.

Property prices have rocketed in Kennington since Lambeth Council offered residents a long-term lease in the 1980s. 

“Currently these properties are unlawfully occupied, in contravention of County Court Orders. If consent to demolish is granted, the council has up to five years to carry out the demolition work.

“In the event that the current unlawful occupants do not leave of their own accord and have to be evicted, they will receive the support they are legally entitled to based on their individual circumstances.”

St Agnes Place residents resisted mass evictions in 1977 and 1978 when the council brought a crane and iron ball into the street threatening to demolish still-occupied houses.

Residents say the multicultural street is a model of the community working together. The road recently hosted a street party when many anti-weapons protesters relaxed after protesting against the arms fair in Docklands, east London.

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