This summer’s Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London shows the dangers of ‘gentrification’. It means gilding the surfaces, glossing over the harsh realities of life and evicting or disguising working-class communities.

Property speculators in Sheffield seem similarly slow to spend money on improvements. Many large buildings are left to blight our city for years, rotting with ‘For Sale’ signs and huge price tags. We forget that maybe they once buzzed with industrial creativity. They’re such commonplace eyesores that we become blind to them. Then when such areas get sprinkled with the fairy dust of ‘regeneration’, they magically become attractive to investors and the cycle begins again.

When this process crept into Neepsend, some people really got going. N.E.C Neepsend Club, a collective of Sheffield antifascist activists, artists and musicians, took over an empty commercial property on Burton Road, just past The Riverside, squatting it as an anti-gentrification community centre. They describe their area as a potential alternative haven, currently surrounded by a sea of beautiful empty buildings. Before the developers turn it into a clone-city zone, they’re making space for gigs, art sessions, political talks, bike repair, venue hire, whatever – and they welcome anyone who wants to get involved.

Kick off was in late May, with performance events open to the public. In mid June they had a well-organised three-day surreal art exhibition. By that time they expected a notice to quit, but no landlord’s agent had even called by. It’s a well-defended building, with barbed wire fencing at the back, next to Yellow Arch Studios. Neepsend Brewery have been supportive of the initiative, donating kegs of beer.

One eye-catching logo inside says ‘Do Something Crew’, with the symbol of a crossed-out chair. This place is for action, for the fightback, not for sitting down and staying down. Rumour has it that people are being evicted from occupation at the former Ski Village, so it could be that a lot more squatting is just around the corner. There are lots of hidden squats, but this group have chosen to keep their doors open at certain times, usually at least once a day. This sensibly prevents ‘fear of the unknown’ among local residents. And there’s nothing to fear – they’re well-intentioned, intelligent people doing something to raise levels of community interaction. Who knows how much good could come out of that?

It’s not a criminal offence to squat commercial property – not yet, at least – so get yours while they’re still available, as the old joke goes. The Advisory Service for Squatters (ASS) is there to help. London-based, their website is hidden behind an insecure security certificate – not so surprising, given that certificates cost money, just like in higher education. Once you take the red pill and jump into the website, you’ll find treats like the Squatters Handbook, 14th edition, published in October 2016, a complete guide for a mere £2 (and maybe even cheaper for bulk purchase or squat groups).

Sheffield’s city fathers often express irrational anger about squats because many don’t realise how much they deserve it. We cannot sit and suck it up when our city outskirts have either become abandoned dustbowls or shiny, Canary Wharf look-a-likes.

This mission statement from Burton Road says it all, loud and proud: “At a time when homelessness, authoritarian violence and right-wing politics are ravaging not just our nation but our entire planet, organised and positive action is a necessity.

“We are part of the community of Neepsend. Some of us have lived round here for life. We have slowly watched our home go from being a solid working class area to an alien hostile environment. Just because we are poor the Council and heartless landlords seem to think the destruction of our identity is OK. Enough is enough. Our time for organised and positive action is now.”

squatter.org.uk
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