The course of the industrial revolution should have taught us how materially finite the worlds resources are. The information revolution should have helped us to relieve the pressure on these resources. Instead it is been used to squeeze the last wee bit of toothpaste from the tube, till all we are left with is the plastic. But one of the things we do have in abundance is imagination. We can either use it, as up to now, in imagining a technological savour is going to appear and tell us everything will be ok, and carry on regardless. Or we can use it as part of a human plan in endeavours that we know are right, achievable and on our own doorstep.
During COP 26 a group of young people found an empty building. And we need to say here, not a derelict building. An unoccupied building belonging to the council, therefor we could say belonging to the people of Glasgow. The building is situated in Tradeston amid a selection of different trade warehouses and massive developments of glass and steel in the form of banks and offices joining the bland edifices that now line each side of the river. The building in question here was once the Hamish Allan Centre at 180 Centre Street, a former Glasgow homeless shelter. The centre consists of three buildings with a big forecourt with two gated entrances. Part of the complex at one time was a fire station and still retains a red brick training tower. Apart from one of the buildings that has had water running through it for a few years the place was in good nick, and most of the services, rooms and kitchens where perfectly usable.
Why were they looking for an empty building? They needed a space to put up the many visitors attending the COP26 who were not the delegates of polluting states and part of the invasion of oil company lobbyists paying thousands in accommodation and expenses for the duration of the conference. This was to house people who had come from different places to COP who could find no accommodation in the city.
You would imagine a city with a tag line of “People Make Glasgow” to mean ordinary people, that would extend to ordinary people from other places. The welcoming city if you have a fat wallet and have come to shop. Why should a group of young folk need to take up the slack in the failure of the city council to make sure all people at Cop 26 could be looked after in basic temporary accommodation with the amount of empty property dotted around the city.
The definition of occupy can mean; to engage the attention or energies of, to take up a place or area in space, to take or fill an extent in time, to take or hold possession or control of, to fill or perform the functions of, to reside in as an owner or tenant.
Occupation is much more than occupying a building. It is about becoming an actor, an occupation in activities around citizenship and responsibilities. About occupying the mind the intellect and working towards occupying the commons for the common good.
What the young folk who occupied Bailie Hoose, where doing was exercising these principals of fairness and responsibility. All the council had to offer the occupiers of Bailie Hoose, after directing millions of pounds on kowtowing to delegates arriving by private jets and armies of police was. The building is unfit for habitation, and there are fire safety concerns. As well as there are ”huge financial risk” for taxpayers.
We keep seeing headlines like “Extinction Rebellion protests cost Met police £37m so far.” and “COP26: Climate summit policing will cost more than £200m.” It is never mentioned that this ”huge financial costs” to taxpayers could be redirected to actually answering the questions that bring so many taxpayers on to the street in the first place. The same way a good nature COP 26 protest, from what I could see of it and from what the newspapers reported, was met by massive cordons of police, kettling groups for no reason, apart from trying to justify their overpowering and expensive presence and by breaking down doors then denying it like (Bailie Hoose).
Rather than listening to people the authoritarian option is to beat people down, criminalise them and silence them by law. Would Glasgow City Council ever think. Gosh these young folk have revealed an important issue that needs our attention. Why couldn’t we have directed some of the millions from COP26 to improve some of our empty buildings as temporary accommodation over COP. Which would have improved some of our local infrastructure and opened them up to community development after COP and left some kind of legacy to pay for the disruption to the city. Why haven’t the young people who occupied Bailie Hoose not been thanked by the city council for their efforts to support the important, but less fortunate visitors to COP 26? Because
It is not in the nature of the beast to give credence to any obvious ideas that can not be twisted to credit themselves.
We all need to become occupiers of some description. For one it is a sharp learning curve in the realities of our agency. It reawakens the radical imagination. It is one thing to believe we have equal rights under the law and another about what is practiced under the law. In the case of Bailie Hoose it is the practice of young people dealing with the practicalities of life they may never have experienced before. Organising a space that is safe for people, balancing the needs and responsibilities of the group. These are experiences that formal education can not give. It is the education of place in the here-and-now. The kind of education that is sorely needed now as the rise of authoritarianism is speedily absorbing the democratic process.
Round the corner near Balie Hood sits another building, The Beco Building, that the council and the media tried to destroy as it got in the way of the proposed classic scorched earth policies of the city planners of Buchanan Wharf Masterplan. Now the “go-ahead given for ‘ambitious’ plans integrating historic ‘missing piece’ building into the Barclays Glasgow Campus”. Don’t be surprised that the Beco building that developers wanted to trash doesn’t become the historic jewel in the crown of Barclays Glasgow Campus.
Bailie Hoose, the former Hamish Allan Centre Maybe there isn’t enough local community to serve this “campus” but the complex is big enough to draw surrounding communities in. From the ideas I have heard from those who occupied the place. From building a boxing gym to converting the tower and the grounds to a growing space. All sorts of wonderful ideas in sustainability and community development.
Maybe the council could off-set some of its carbon quota by giving Bailie Hoose back to the community who are the rightful owners of it anyway and see what people can do with it. Maybe we could build another GalGael, or a Kinningpark Complex, or a Govanhill Baths and learn from the other many thriving spaces that were born out of occupations, occupations of the imagination. If “People Make Glasgow”, then let them. Or as Colin MacLeod might put it. This is what we’re gonna do! You can help us if you want to! But we are gonna do it anyway!
Property is theft Joseph Proudhon