We are people who live in or use the Factory Social Centre, the building on the corner of Cave Street and Portland Square. A company called the PG Group wants to develop the building we are occupying. They plan to turn it into luxury flats, offices, a cafe, an art gallery and a small health centre. Aside from the possible health centre, we don’t see their development plans as good for this area. Also, when all other information suggests that the NHS is cutting back on public outpatient nursing, we have doubts about what kind of heath centre it would be and if it will really happen.
We don’t want to be moved on and we don’t want this building to be developed. We are asking for your support.
We have worked hard since we squatted here a year and a half ago to turn this building into a home and into a space for free activities, creativity and political discussion. All of these things are under threat from this development. They are also threatened by similar developments in many other places.
We don’t believe that St Pauls needs more luxury flats and offices. On Portland Square alone there are three buildings full of empty offices. We don’t want to be removed in order to create more “beautiful” sterile vacant spaces. We see the PG Group’s proposal as part of a process that is changing our city – and St Pauls in particular – by making more places that are only comfortable for people with more money. This process – often called gentrification – pushes up prices and displaces existing residents, destroying the relationships that people have built with their neighbours and their neighbourhood. It leads to even more security cameras and police to stop people gathering in public space. We want this to stop.
The PG Group say that their aim is to “improve the environment of their community and, if possible, to make donations to charity.” However, nearly all of their developments are luxury accommodation – which is useful to only a small section of the “community”. For example, they developed the flats and serviced apartments on Portland Square. They were also part of the failed onedovelane development, which proposed building the second-highest skyscraper in the UK in St Pauls.
In addition to this, the main aim of the Grant Bradley Trust, the organisation PG give money to, is “the advancement of the Roman Catholic and Christian faith in any part of the world.” It is a religious, rather than a charitable, organisation. Despite what they say, the PG Group are a development company like any other – who just use some of their profits to promote their own beliefs.
The PG Group are trying to get us to leave voluntarily by holding out the promise of another building that we could use. So far all they have offered is a shipping container for storage and the use of some meeting rooms. We reject this offer.
We want to make it clear: even if they offered us a suitable building, we do not want to leave. We believe that, in this situation, accepting another building in order to vacate this one for development would be the same as supporting what the PG Group want to do. We do not want to help them promote themselves as ethical and caring as they continue to damage neighbourhoods. We do not agree with their development and we do not intend to cooperate with it.
We are squatting this building. We do not legally own it. However, we believe that buildings should belong to the people who use them and open them up for others to use together, not to those who only want to make money off them. Laws exist to protect the interests of the rich and keep the rest of us shut out. That is why, if we have to, we will defy them. We know that this means that we are likely to face violent eviction but we believe that resistance is essential. We have to take a stand.
We are staying where we are and we call for those who support us to join us in struggle – for this building, for free spaces and against eviction and gentrification.