The rapid deterioration of London’s culture spells out a glaring SOS signal within London’s grassroots creative and progressive communities. The potential for projects with motives other than profit at their core is being crushed by a development that caters only to the desires of the richest few. The city is in dire need of new ideas – spaces to reconnect and nurture the remaining fragments of London’s shattered communities.
The vibrant and diverse culture that attracts so many of us to the city is systematically being sold to the highest bidder and replaced with luxury flats and all the run-of-the-mill establishments that cater to the needs of their residents. (It may come as good news to many of you that sales of luxury flats in London have plummeted by 86% in the past year. Hooray!)
Take the recent closure of Passing Clouds, a cultural staple for ten years within Dalston’s vibrant community. A place where musicians, artists, activists, change-makers, partygoers, dreamers and anyone else could find a sense of belonging and community that is often so fleeting within the hostile flow of city life. It was a home away from home for all who were involved.
This is a community that fought a long, hard and beautiful battle to rescue its beloved venue from the tyrants of gentrification earlier this year. The day their doors were finally closed and the iconic artwork outside was sprayed grey dealt a harsh blow – but the sheer energy and creativity put into the campaign leading up to its closure shows us the silver lining in this passing cloud. Their efforts were recently awarded by Hackney Council who declared Passing Clouds and Asset of Community Value – an example of how it pays to be resilient.
What we saw during this campaign was an abundance of raw, creative and passionate energy that is ready to be harnessed on a bigger scale. New ideas that challenge the dismantling of the spaces that makes this possible must emerge.
That is where The Hive comes in. As rent becomes more astronomical, the possibility for places like Passing Clouds, The Hive or indeed any independent project to flourish without profit as its central tenet becomes more and more difficult. Even simply finding somewhere to live has become an insurmountable challenge for many, demonstrated in homeless in the capital doubling in the past five years.
The limelight now falls on the UK’s empty commercial properties as a solution, of which it is estimated there are currently more than a million. These are spaces that lay barren in the midst of a troubled society, making a mockery of its cries for help.
The Hive shines bright as an example of what can be done with just one of these empty buildings. Once an eight-years-empty derelict office block, it is now an independent social space, run by not-for-profit company ReSpace Projects that “enables the temporary use of empty buildings for social good.”
It is at once a space for workshops, political events and meetings, art exhibitions, performance and seminars. In the same building you can find a café, a gallery, a stage, a music studio and rooms where those who work there live. All of this was created from scratch – hatched from the dreams of its creators.
On any given week, events can range from a fundraiser for Calais’ refugee camps to a shamanic sound-healing workshop. On one floor there might be bustling crowd enjoying an art exhibition, whilst downstairs the weekly jam session takes place. During many of these events, delicious meals put together using food that was wasted elsewhere is served on a donation basis. This is truly a place that attempts to bring together projects, communities and individuals from every corner of society and give them a space to flourish – free from the usual financial, cultural and social constraints.
A project that serves the community instead of bank balances in this way would be impossible with the cost of rents in London, which is of course something that is skipped when occupying an empty building. But that isn’t to say that The Hive is simply a squat – the owner is in fact happy for them to be there, making such good use of the building while it awaits redevelopment. The building previously lay desolate and empty for eight years – who could argue against what has been done with the building?
The Hive is an abbreviation for Human Interest Versatile Environment; and that is precisely what every empty property in the UK could be. It is a beautiful demonstration of how empty space can be used to bring people together and demonstrate progression, even if only temporarily. This is something that is needed more than ever in a society of people that are becoming ever more detached and isolated from each other.
But with The Hive comes a troubling insight into the scale of the waste. If just one building can be of this much service in less than two years, just what could be achieved if even a few of the empty buildings in the UK were harnessed in such a way? The sheer vastness of this unspent potential is frightening but ultimately exciting, because it provides hope.
The solutions exist and The Hive has done an incredible job of providing a legitimate example of one, with which policymakers will hopefully refer to in the future when revising the ways in which to tackle waste at every level.
The Hive is more of an idea than a place – it can be taken anywhere and used by anyone. It may have started in Hackney, but it will not end there. It is a travelling idea fuelled by the dreams, passion and creativity of those who can see past this rough patch in our story and know how to make their visions a reality, even on a budget of £250. So let the Hive serve as an inspiration to the owners of empty properties, the members of fractured communities and anyone else who dreams of a less wasteful world not driven by profit. Be the change you want to see.
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