Every time I was on site at Leeds Community Project over the few months that we were there I felt an intense freedom like nothing I’ve experienced before but hope I’ll be lucky enough to re-create many times in the future.
This experience of disobedience to power never felt humiliating or dangerous or frustrating; it only ever felt like we were doing something overwhelmingly positive and really making a tangible difference for the local community and playing our part in perfecting a template for the world to follow in the fight against global capitalism and institutions of coercive power.
We weren’t only acting as a means to an end, as is sometimes the case in direct and passive actions; we were living as I would be glad to live in some post-revolutionary situation – we were really being the change that we’re fighting for.
Whether the site was busy or quiet, it was never dead. There was casual work being done to fuel the rocket stove and make the site function, creative activity, political discussion that was never heated, private study, newcomers being shown around, a lot of simple relaxation and the occasional eviction attempt – just to keep us on our toes.
My first impression of Grosvenor Mount was pretty much precisely the same as everyone else’s; ‘why is the university allowing private developers to destroy such a beautiful and unique space? Of course – it’s for profit, stupid…
The uniformity of people’s reactions to the space is interesting for the potential it has to inspire new and committed radical activists. Grosvenor Mount presents newcomers with a tangible and powerful message. It’s clear from the moment you enter that capitalism is a destructive force in our society; it is the only rationale for the destruction of a piece of natural, cultural and intellectual heritage with the power to avoid immediate rejection by the capitalist media, bailiffs, police and people from the Uni. To clarify, to enter Grosvenor Mount was to fully realise the fact that capitalism is the cancer that inflicts our society.
I’m certain that many people from a variety of backgrounds were further radicalised by this phenomena of the ‘Grosvenor Epiphany’ that I have described and any other squat would do well to attempt to recreate it.
The only improvement would have been to find a way of encouraging less active people to visit in the first place. We had several very well attended events and activity days attracting an impressive number of the Leeds ‘activist community’ but I heard people several times saying that when they heard about ‘these old greenhouses’ they weren’t immediately inspired to drop everything and make their crucial first visit.
Having made this slight criticism of the Grosvenor squat, I am struggling to suggest a way of addressing it. Maybe putting on less activist orientated events could have attracted more potential recruits, but I’m not sure if this would risk pushing away the people who spent so much time making the squat possible. Anyway, I hope I’ve at least brought this small criticism to people’s attention.
LCP was both a hotbed of political discussion and a very successful instance of solidarity across the (lefty) political spectrum. I think the relaxed atmosphere and collective activity towards a shared goal encouraged a friendly synthesis of ideas rather than an oppositional attitude to discussion. This is certainly a state of affairs with revolutionary potential which must be cultivated if we are to build a non-coercive society to which everyone can consent.
There was a level of selflessness on constant display at LCP the likes of which I’ve never experienced before. People really contributed according to their means and took according to their needs. This combined with our shared enthusiasm for skipped food allowed abundance for all and no one had to do without in order to take part; it really wasn’t a sacrifice, but rather a privilege, to be able to spend time on site.
As you’d expect, the feeling of solidarity climaxed on each of the eviction attempts, each of which revealed the incompetence of the ‘strong arm of the state’. In general, police and bailiffs would arrive, be greeted with humour and mockery, ask that we leave and then leave themselves with their tails between their legs. When they occasionally pushed it – once making unlawful arrests and once risking assault charges by kicking our barricades – they were forced to back-peddle and hope we’d forget about it.
When we finally were evicted it was by the cowardly technique of showing up with overwhelming force (including dogs) at 9AM.
So far we’ve not attempted to re-occupy although people are in talks with the faceless, amoral, capitalist machine that is the University of Leeds about meeting the price that was offered by the private developers to buy the land for co-housing. This is an outcome that is of debatable success depending on your view of co-housing, but it’s certainly better than the alternative of yet more private development of public land and we intend to pressure the co-housing group to make the housing as affordable as possible and they have promised to keep some of the land open for community use.
Overall I feel that LCP was an overwhelmingly positive project which could become part of a movement which will challenge the state and the rich and might even one day be looked back on as one of many nails in their coffin.