Urban Renewal Group
by Jan Shaw
Ha ha ha, well there it is. Much stuff happened there & entropy cottage became often my chosen destination rather than school. Yet as this is about squatting the next thing that happened was April 1st 1984…
Urban Renewal Group
Urg! That was what we were called, there was a meeting somewhere in a student’s type room, there must've been about 30 to 40 people at this meeting, many I'd never seen before — some I had. As its over 30 years ago now I can't remember a fucking thing about it other than Witney Blanket led the meeting and talked about the reasons why we were gonna do this mega high profile squat. What the logistic requirements were, what squatting actually was…as for me I'd heard of it but knew not much about it (other than what I'd absorbed from entropy cottage) some of the peeps will of been clueless about it. I kinda think I was there with my best mate at the time, yo! Or John. His brother was zippy — another cool dude, squatter, punk as fuck. John & zippy lived in cookridge another Leeds 16 suburban ghetto. So we'd met via friends like Stu or Tom Kincaid (rip) and they'd followed our punk rock band The Pagan Idols since its inception in approx. 1982.
John and I really became best friends due to Stu. Stu I'd known since I was 14 when one day he & Tom called round my house & asked me to join their band, which was kinda funny at the time cuz I had my right hand all strapped up cuz of a work injury — oh, I might've been 16 then? I'm sure I read a diary of mine that documented this so at some point I will try & cross reference. Yeah, so, we'd got this band going in Tom's bedroom and various people were there, such as John, zippy and Paul. Singing along to our songs.
And after stu & Anna moved from harehills they went to Anna's house in Chapel Allerton. It was a cool house & Gina, Anna's sister lived there too (whom I had a massive crush on) so basically me & john used to go round to visit & stayed there for — what felt like a week — if not two weeks at a time, I'm basing this on having to sign on every two weeks and I do recall walking from there once or twice on that fateful journey to the dole office (think my signing on day was a Tuesday, often you'd see yr mates & have a bit of a chin wag or a roll up before continuing on our merry way. The process of signing on was quite straightforward, you would turn up on your allotted day. — Tues, like I said for me – you had to arrive at your allotted bay for your surname, then you had to get there before 10.30 or summat. And then they'd ask UB40? Ha ha no, not the band…that was the name of yr signing on card…if u didn't have it they'd ask 'national insurance number?' I had been doing this a fair old while & lost my ub40 long time ago therefore by now I'd memorised my NI # = ne7*8*9*t…which is what I think it is…anyway).
Sleeping in the armchairs or staying awake all night chatting & stuff or mooching around Chapel Allerton. Sometimes we'd stay awake and write stories which often took a bloody long time. Sometimes we'd stay awake all night…well, more than some times, often we'd stay awake all night and these episodes would feature in the narrative that would be written. In the morning often we would allow the daytime peeps, namely Stu, to write a piece – they were often very bizarre stories. Yet it passed the time.
One time in conjunction with raising hell fanzine we embarked on a Michelin guide type review of Leeds city centre cafés which was an entertaining enterprise. Maybe, if you are able to download some very early issues of raising hell zine, you might be able to read some of those reviews. Think we had various criteria to fulfil such as; price compatibility with emphasis on the cheapness, quality of the beverages, biscuits, cake, etc, the ambience, location to signing on places/dole office or to Leeds flea market. Now, Leeds flea market was mostly situated in the old market stalls, outside (I stress old market as in mid-80's think they had quite a devastating fire which destroyed some of the old infrastructure. I recall my dad who was a firefighter at the time attended to it also) anyway, this flea market was a magnet for us punky squatters due to cool cool stuff & cheapness!!!!
It was where we bought our second hand Italian paraboots that were de rigueur fashion items for crusty punker squatters nationally. We realised this when we occasionally visited Stonehenge for a festival or solstice or even venturing forth to various locations within the UK, like Nottingham to see Crass & flux, for example.
Around this time in my life which was probs most of 1982 and 1983 up to 1984, as there were some meetings which John & I attended that were about setting out doing a huge squatting event in Leeds city centre on 1st April 1984, all fool’s day! Classic, really looked forward to it. And when it happened it opened the floodgates for activists all around. Causing a squatting scene that flourished for many many years! Ha ha ha rewriting the beginning of this chapter may happen occasionally due to writing maybe one paragraph a week and not being top of the game all the time. Yet as long as the main narrative continues I'm happy, lol!
So, the meeting, 30 or 40 people, lots I'd never met — all here cuz we wanted to do something and we were eager to fuck shit up. Like I said, can't recall anything of it yet feel the atmospheric vibe of it going on eternally within my soul. It was talk of insurrection it was talk of anarchy it was talk of activism it was talk of direct action it was talk of mutual aid it was talk of ideology it was talk about action to be it was secret it was clandestine it was something real that we could do against the powers that be that would fuck shit up! And we wanted to fuck shit up! Not smash old factory windows with stones on the walk back, pissed up, from the Warehouse or Phonographique nightclubs. Or go joyriding in stolen motors & torch them or go shoplifting for choc bars, or do other levels of petty crime. We wanted to fuck the system! Destroy serious culture! We wanted anarchy in the UK! Punk rock had promised us this yet we were clever enough to realise that it was not going to be given to us, we had to do it ourselves. We had to reclaim our rights, stolen from us by those who'd fooled us into saying they were going to look after us…such as politician's etc etc! Well, yeah that was the vibe — there wasn't a PowerPoint demo or anything it was talk of the building, where it was, and what may happen. It was an old rates building, in the city centre, opposite a huge tower block police station (?millgarth?), and next to the brand new law Court buildings. Therefore extremely high profile – which, retrospectively, was the whole (maybe main) point.
From mine own addled brain; squatting is not breaking into empty or occupied buildings, it is entering a building that has an entry point and then, within, you can claim occupancy. Gaining entry is by a possibly open window or door or roof skylight kinda thing. This is a dodgy grey area obviously and as such I'm too drunk to get into it at the mo. Needless to say, on April 1st 1984, we squatted a big building in the centre of Leeds!!!! Yeah!!!! Punk fucking rock!!!!!
And, once within it we swarmed all over the place! It was about 4 or 5 stories high with multiple rooms. I recall Ben Sik'o'War suggesting & beginning to construct, from the first minutes, a huge skate ramp in a big just under ground floor area. Whilst this construction was taking place the barricades were also going up. During the occupation some meetings took place with the diverse people within. Skate ramps, barricades were two of the topics of these meetings that were realised. Others were potentials of what this space could offer:
soup kitchens, homeless peoples refuge, jobless people's space, band practice areas, lesbian gay disenfranchised peoples meetings, etc.
Often we'd have shared sleeping spaces – one of these times I do recall due to a photograph of me, playing an acoustic guitar with Rich? Of the scum dribblers and that reminded me of those times. Next vivid memory is in a room chatting with snakey and Becky. What did we chat about? No freaking idea! About possibility probably, some of which probably came to pass, possibly some that we dared to dream that were too much to achieve in this lifetime, in this place at this particular time on the planet. There's other photos: such as sitting outside the side door, waiting for people to visit our vegan/veggie cafe we'd set up or for people to come & ask for information. Basically we were there for all of 4 days!!!!! That's all the time it took for the system to evict us. No surprise really, but in that short time, networking was done, realisation that squatting was real, knowing that the system could be fought, realising that direct action works was amazing and self-empowering!
We had a world to win & we could win against all the shit! Jeez just had an epiphany… 32 years and 4 months and 4 days ago (at this time of writing!) No wonder I can't remember shit! But yet I feel it, the feeling of that time is awesome and it consumes me totally. Not brilliant to convey to readers but it’s all I have. Any other snippets of memories or such I will record & collate & update as much as I am able.
We searched the building up n down. Found many weird computer yet not computer machines that were fed paper. We found much paper that were to be fed to these machines — which we soon found a use for! We found many many empty rooms, some we'd designate for anarcho punk meetings, some for psychic experimental types, some for homeless people. Some for lots of other people. This place could've homed hundreds! Often we'd find ourselves downstairs involved in making up the skate ramps, or we'd be half arsed involved in building up the barricades. Or we'd end up in the kitchen/food area. Seriously can't recall fuck all about this lol!
Think Faith or Ros and Cardigan will have been there, along as with Dallas and Tony (van driver -Adrian, real name) afterwards I ended up in Chapel Town area of Leeds, infamously near to the Hayfields pub. Yet before all that we had the eviction carnival. Previous to the carnival we had the TV cameras in! Lol! A BBC look North 6pm programme. They came into the building and we were all lined up in a line as the camera panned across us. Previous to this, I'd heard about it so I'd ran or walked quickly in a cool, I don't care about anything kind of walk to a phone box & phoned my mum & dad's house…no answer! So, I'd rung my best mates house, spoke to his mum & said 'I'm gonna be on the Look North news, please record it'. Which they must've done cuz I do recall watching it later at some point & analysing my movements.
A few things are thrown upon by this. 1, betamax And vhs were in the warzone at this point, we had beta. My mates mum had vhs…to me none of this matters apart from she was in when I phoned whereas my folks were out! Oh, that's the second point! Third, I guess, is my obvious ego. Then again as it’s an autobiography type story…guess, thinking of me is a plus. But it's more of being a young lad, never been on TV, never again to be on TV, it is, was, a big deal! Yeah, they asked us to line up — about 10 of us and then they panned the camera along us. I remember standing there, wearing my mod helicopter's jumpsuit, thinking what the fuck am I meant to do? As the camera got closer I started to check my pockets. Funny thing about a helicopter jumpsuit is that it had lots & lots of pockets! Therefore I was in pocket heaven when the TV camera eye swept over me within the Rates Building Squat!
Now, if I could find that piece of film that would be soooo funny! My next half-assed project! There's pictures of me & John & Roz/Faith sat outside the side door. What were we doing there? I dunno, can't recall right now lol. And then there's the carnival photo's! I do recall some of that day, Gary Buddha in one room, me sat or stood up on a 3rd story window ledge leaning out shouting stuff, being daring and amazing! Loadsa peeps took part that day — lots of normal people saw this spectacle enfold & continued with their day — I truly think these were the people we were trying to connect with, to give them a glimpse into another world. The world where we have no power to influence anything, the world where we're not allowed to vote upon, the world where the rich & influenced carve up the planet to promote profit to themselves and their friends. We wanted them to 'wake up'! But, as I've been here 30+ years it does seem, à la matrix films – many of the people choose the blue pill rather than the red. Fair enough, if I had my time again I'd probs continue with my cadet training & join the Royal Marines as a 16 year old.
Ha, daydreaming is a cunting bitching fucktard knobwank ain't it!? As if wishing for shit is ever gonna change anything! Unless it gives you insight into useful stuff, which it does for me sometimes.
Oh, on that day we chucked out loads of that ticker tape paper we found in some of the offices. There's a few photos out there. Me teetering on window ledges enjoying the expressionism, the exhibitionism, the daredevilishness, the feeling of being part of something right against something that was wrong, being punk, living anarchy, being an anarchist, living for the moment believing we were gonna live forever!
Oh yeah, we got evicted. A CPO (compulsory purchase order), meant they (bailiffs & police) could forcibly evict you. We'd planned & had meetings and had blockade crew arranged but, in the end, we left peaceably without a fight…to infect further areas. In the local media: Leeds Other Paper (later the Northern Star — before it folded in mid-90’s was an independent kinda radical weekly newspaper for Leeds. Notable for many various random things; boff’s topical cartoons, opera reviews done by my dad [a very occasional select few], TV reviews done by my house mate Andy, also news reports about squatting & such that the regular media wouldn't touch with a barge pole!…as I was saying, the L.O.P. (Leeds Other Paper) actually featured us within our pages and our eviction carnival too. Some of the people involved in our occupation must've been clued up about local politics too as soon after everything was all cleared up & everyone had moved on, questions were asked about the Old Rates Building and its future. Apparently a councillor Mundy was reported to say that there were 'plans in the pipeline'…a few years later or maybe it was a year to the day, some graffiti appeared on the blocked up windows saying just that phrase, with a bit more added: “plans in the pipeline, eh?”.
On reflection it was just allowed to become another empty hulk of a building with many possibilities yet left to rack & ruin. Oh, guess what it turned into a few years later…yup, a car park. Well, parking your SUV can be a nightmare these days! I actually wrote a paragraph or two about this episode, called 'a splash of life' (inspired by one of the banners from the carnival day – which followed us to other squats…photographs of this are around somewhere). This appeared in my friend’s zine Peace of Mind. Will copy n paste soon hopefully.
Jan Shaw has been interested in occultism since teenage, now very middle age.
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