Amelia’s Magazine | Squatting in the Community: Bristol’s Factory Reoccupied

I have to honestly admit that I don’t really THINK about sustainability in my everyday life. I even recycle without thinking because it is such a natural process to me. You don’t consciously think about why you drink tea from a cup and not from a bowl or why you pee into the toilet and not into the basin.  
I think you’re only truly sustainable when it’s a part of your way of life, healing just like a diet is pointless unless you actually change your lifestyle and habits. In keeping with this, shop I came across a test with a perfectly relevant name: “My Habbit“. You can check out your own carbon footprint and you might be surprised at how easy it is to change really small habits. 

Whilst taking the test it visualises your carbon footprint in the form of a strange and creepy semi-alien computer-generated human body. Proportionally distorting a human’s body parts in order to visualise your disproportionate use, you work your way through the different stages of sustainability. For instance, if you use a lot of electricity, you head starts to look more and more like a skeleton. The more meat you eat, the fatter your belly gets. Electricity and gas expands your hands, travel expands your feet until it looks like an almost bursting balloon. Mine looked pretty normal at the end, but it still had suggestions for me to better myself. But how did I even come across this test? 

“So, a guy came into the office today to borrow some of our paper, which was recycled and said ‘So are you trying to save the world or summin?’ (sic) to which I wanted to start replying but by the time I said ‘Um..’ he said ‘Then stop driving!’ I obviously replied ‘I don’t drive’ and he said ‘Oh’ and walked off. What’s the dude hassling me for?” 
This is a snippet of a conversation I had during dinner today, where it transpired that me being a vegetarian and not having a car actually makes me “pretty green” according to a test my partner had taken during the workshop he held at the “Sustainable Future” exhibition at the Design Museum. I was immediately intrigued. This may have been mainly due to the fact that I was fairly certain I was going to come out of the other end of the tunnel with a result to be proud of (aka something to show off about).  

I already knew some of the reasons that were going to be to my advantage. I work from home, which means that in average, I use the underground only once a week in for meetings or events in town. I have only travelled by plane once in the past year (last November, in fact), which is highly unusual and mainly down to the fact that work has happily consumed all my time. Either way, I knew it was going to make me look good in the test. I walk to the shops, and buy most of my food and fabric (I am a fashion designer) in the local market where things are mainly locally sourced. I’m very lazy when it comes to anything that is essential to life such as sleep, eating and washing. That’s only of advantage because I own a lot of clothes, which means I very rarely have to actually wash any of them. My washing machine is extremely underused.  

Furthermore, since we’re on the subject of big white goods, I don’t own a dishwasher or tumble dryer or any such machinery. I recycle everything from paper snippets to plastic to glass to fabric. I would say “tins” but I don’t really use them. As I mentioned before, most my food moves directly form the bowl of vegetables of the farmer’s table into my Longchamp shopping bag into my vegetable drawer. Another point that I knew was going to help me look good in this test was the fact that I’m a vegetarian. Apparently, that makes a difference although I’m still not quite sure why. Surely any food needs to be transported, worked on? Do feel free to enlighten me if you know. 

Returning to the subject of technical items, I don’t watch TV. I have a TV set for watching a DVD every now and then, but I usually prefer to work, and the TV is of course unplugged when I don’t use it because otherwise it makes a very annoying humming noise when it’s on standby. I unplug my printers, sewing machines, hair straighteners etc when I’m not using them.

People who don’t live with me would never believe it, but I’d rather look like a couch potato wearing three jackets (I’m at home, right?) than turn on the heating unnecessarily. In fact, the heating is completely switched off until the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius for more than a week, which doesn’t make me very popular with my housemates.  

We were given some free sustainable light bulbs when we last switched gas and electricity companies, which we use throughout the house and half of the fluorescent light bulbs we have in our office have burned out and we are too lazy to replace them.

This one is a big deal, but not a topic that gave me any extra credit during the test. About 80% of my wardrobe (including my shoes) is either second hand, vintage or passed on in some form or another through eBay, TK Maxx, in the form of presents from family and friends, inherited pieces, charity shops etc. This does not, however, mean that I don’t indulge my fashion sense, as a quick peek into the style section of my website will confirm. 

I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t have a CD player or stereo because I have all my music on my Mac and iPhone – who knew being this non-nostalgic about music, could turn into a blessing? 

We have an agreement with our landlord who sends round a gardener every two months. Officially, any carbon footprint they amass during their work is technically not mine, so I am not counting it. The grass is yellow from the few days of “heat” this lame English summer had, but I don’t really see that as my responsibility and as far as I can tell, I don’t think the gardeners ever water the grass – they simpy cut it even shorter and dryer and pick up the leaves. 

Some of the questions in the test were difficult. For instance, I had to look up which type of light bulbs we actually use. They cleverly adjust the optimum “habit” you could have at the end and suggest ways in which you can better yourself, even if your carbon emission is as low as one could realistically imagine. 

However, there were aspects of importance that were not quite taken into consideration. A big issue, which could tip someone’s carbon print (especially among us fashionistas and fahsionistos, eh?)  is our shopping and consumption habits beyond mere primary necessity (food). Do you buy online? Are your purchase shipped or flown from overseas or do you make sure buy locally? Do you shop in chain supermarkets or local markets? How much stuff do you own? Do you buy from Primark or second hand? Do you buy per trend and season or do you invest in pieces that you have worn for decades? Do you tend to consume actual objects such electric equipment, decorative items, clothing or something altogether different? 

There are also questions relating to your profession that are not taken into consideration at all. For instance, the test asks you whether you use a printer at home, but not whether you use a printer at work. How much paper do you use and waste, knowing you’re not paying for it? I’ll forgive them for not asking office-related questions, though, as this could get very detailed and complex. But what about mobile phones? No sign of their impact.

Having an iPhone, which I use for work, means I charge my phone up a lot more often than, say, someone who works in a shop and turns theirs off for most of the day. As anybody who owns an iPhone knows, as much as we love them – the battery of the iPhone is abysmal. It needs charging ALL the time. Surely the test should be asking about the different phones one has, the same way they asked about what type of TV I own? On the other hand, I charge my iPhone via my laptop – this means less electricity is used. You can see, the questions can be quite endless, but an essential acknowledgement of such basics would have improved the test. 
Many of my friends and colleagues are writers or need to write in some form or another. When you do your writing, do you do it online or offline? That sounds like it would make no difference, but it does. Here’s a good illustrating example, which has astounded quite a lot of people when I’ve mentioned it. 

One of the questions in the questionnaire is how often you boil the kettle. Did you know that every time you do a search on google it uses as much electricity and power from the mighty google servers as it does to boil a full kettle? A question in the test, if I have had any say, should have been “Do you look up the tiniest question on google rather than trying to think that second longer in case you remember?” Do you maybe have a real life dictionary (oh wonder and glory), which can help you just as much? Yes, one should consider the production cost of making said book, but for the sake of the argument, let’s assume it’s a vintage book, which still holds perfectly updated descriptions of most words we know. If it doesn’t, you can STILL use Google, Wikipedia or an online dictionary. But not doing so immediately would reduce your carbon footprint more than you think… 

I am a great believer in the fact that until something is accepted as normal, it has not really been overcome. Until it is, the obstacle of integration is not complete. I feel this is the way with sustainability. I grew up with it, so it was quite strange for me to see what fuss people made about being sustainable – it was new to me. Once people embrace it as part of their lives, it will be a lot easier. You hear campaigns telling you to “be aware” and “do your part” as if most of these acts weren’t perfectly logical. I disagree. Sure, some people just don’t admit to perfectly basic knowledge being obvious, and need those hints and tips, and none of us are perfect and continue to be educated. However, the obsession of making recycling something to be conscious about is not going to help. Only once it’s truly and easily integrated into our lives in a manner that is natural to participate in will sustainability really be standard practice.

All photography by Maria Domican

I was nervous upon arriving at Vintage at Goodwood… Nervous because I had called in sick to work, order nervous because I had been hearing bad press about the event and mainly nervous because I had no idea what to expect.

I have to admit, abortion no matter how fashionable, arty and eco driven a festival is, a major emphasis has always been on being drunk and having a great, if somewhat crazy time… I couldn’t imagine myself getting wasted on ‘classic cocktails’ or ‘gin and tonics’, parading around campsites in my beloved vintage treasures and sleeping through bands in a dusty heap at Goodwood. Apparently that was exactly the crowd that organiser Wayne Hemingway was eager to discourage, not wanting those “out on the lash that leave a load of empty tins at their ripped tent”.

Goodwood was billed as ‘the first of what will be an annual music and fashion led celebration of creative British cool’ ‘The new festival of Britain’. But what was it? A vintage Fashion Fair? An exhibition? Or a festival? Featuring music, art, fashion, film and design I was puzzled as to how it would all come together.

None the less I was excited… I had packed a few of my 2nd favourite dresses (the dirt was still a worry!) far too many hats (and yes I carried them in a vintage hat box) and even two matching vintage parasols, for my friend and I to parade around with; in short, more than I would usually take on a week long holiday.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a red carpet and the famous British High Street. Made up like a spaghetti western, all wooden fronted shops, I felt like I had wandered onto a film set. The high street catered for the big brands: John Lewis, The Body Shop and Dr. Martins all had large stores with all the facilities of any other high street shop. It also was the home for the vintage cinema, a traditional British pub and even an Indian take away! The draw of the festival to many though – the vintage stalls – were down the two side streets in tents. These were much more bazaar-like in style; small cramped lines of tents exploding with clothes, accessories, and when it rained (which it did a lot) crammed in people unable to move.

Vintage shopping at Goodwood.

Bands such as The Faces, Buzzcocks, Heaven 17 and the Noisettes entertained the crowds but it was the fashion that was the main draw of the festival. Workshops taught sewing and knitting while Hardy Amies and Pearl and Daisy Lowe were among those with runway shows.

The Noisettes on the main stage.

Pearl and Daisy Lowe at their runway show.

Divided into eras, the festival celebrated five decades of British cool, with each area having a different ‘curator’ (supposed experts in that field).

The 1970s and 1980s zone curated by Greg Wilson featured a warehouse with interactive graffiti wall and a roller disco.

Also in the 1970s era was Eddie Miller’s Soul Casino nightclub – replicating a mid 70s ballroom and reminiscent of many a bad wedding reception, complete with 1970s swirly carpet, sprung dance floor, pool tables and low lighting – it was here that Wayne Hemingway performed his own DJ set on the Sunday.

Wayne Hemingway

The emphasis of the festival was definitely the 1940s and 1950s, however, with the majority of outfits being so themed and with one of the highlights being leading percussionist, producer and 1940s enthusiast Snowboy’s Tanqueray sponsored ‘Torch Club’: a 1940’s style supper club which served 3 course meals over the weekend, with waiter service and a full orchestra playing while you eat. Behind the club forties allotments and land girls held guess-the-weight-of-the-pumpkin competitions and the guys from The Chap held an Olympian event with cucumber sandwich tossing and tug-o-moustache.

Cucumber sandwich tossing at The Chap Olympiad

Moustache tug-o-war

Still in its first year, the festival organisers have room for improvement before next year’s. The website promised ‘an unparalleled attention to design and organisational detail’ which is a little optimistic considering the press pass debacle. Still, this was upheld in areas such as the attention to period detail in all shops and stages and that all events were first come first served and not fully booked up beforehand.
It’s possible the press pass debacle was a result of the PR company giving all 150 staff free weekend and camping tickets… of which apparently only 8 were used!

One stall holder also complained that they felt the festival had been miss-sold as they thought that the vintage stalls were going to be on the main high street not crammed into the side tents.

Whilst a lot of events over the weekend such as dance classes and the cinema were free, the main grumbles were still about the commercial emphasis of the festival, Bonham’s high profile auction, chain stores and a huge emphasis on shopping and spending money left a lot of people disgruntled, but apparently still willing to spend; Oxfam reportedly made £1000 in the first half hour of opening! Lily Allen‘s no-show to launch ‘Lucy in Disguise’ was probably a blessing in disguise as it prevented the focus of the weekend from being celebrity.

The ‘Glamping’ was on all accounts also seen to be a big disappointment. Situated at the bottom of the hill in the woods this area quickly became a muddy bog with the torrential rain and at £1200 for a tent with an airbed was seen as a complete rip off by many who didn’t even have hot showers. The same was true of the pods which had to move some people to tents due to complaints about size and not being able to stand up.

Glamorous campers.

For the regular campers, though, there were no problems. Many vintage tents, bunting strewn camps and campervans were on a chalk based slope which quickly drained and dressing rooms with full length mirrors and power points enabled everyone to dress up.

Dressing up rooms. Photography by Madeleine Lowry

…And dress up they did! Whilst the day trippers favoured fancy dress over true vintage and stuck to the high street, the weekend crowd were the highlight of the festival. A huge ego-boosting weekend, everyone went out of their way to compliment each other on their outfits and a general blitz spirit coupled with the friendly campsite and interactive nature of events ensured that everyone was quick to make new friends.

Overall the weekend offered an overwhelming range of activities to take part in or witness, and hopefully with the kinks ironed out before next year, things can only get better for Goodwood.

Fashion at Goodwood.

You can read our insightful preview of Vintage at Goodwood here, and Amelia’s experience of the festival here.

Who really owns land? This is a question I find myself asking more and more, thumb recently. How can anyone own land? We’ve all seen Pocahontas (and if you haven’t, prostate then hop to. It is a scathing social commentary about the colonial instinct, and also, greed) wherein the eponymous heroine calls on John Smith to address his privilege through the politically incisive medium of song: ‘you think you own whatever land you land on/ the world is just a dead thing you can claim’ and those lyrics mean just as much today as they did when the English wandered over to the New World, disembarked and thought ‘Looks nice, we’ll take it. Giftwrap, please.’
In the Amazon, indigenous tribes who just happen to have lived and hunted the land for generations are getting turfed out by farmers who want to grow their soya crops in the sweeping clearings, full of smouldering stumps and fertile soil, which occur naturally throughout South America. (If you go by the idea that man is natural, and therefore any actions are also ‘natural). Money exchanged hands! Legally (probably), the farmers own the land! But…who did they pay? Who wrote them the deeds to this land? Who owned the land prior to the farmers? Who could possibly have been said to own the land prior to the farmers, except the tribes who lived on the land, knew the land, needed the land to support themselves…and are now increasingly finding themselves in concentrations camps along roadsides? How do you even own land? I think Pocahontas would agree with me that whoever works land, owns land. Whoever lives on land, understands the land and uses the land to benefit themselves and others, without fucking anyone else over, then they might be the people who own that land.

This attitude once led to the premature demolishing of a beautiful piece of art-deco architecture, on my part. The pride of my old hometown was a dilapidated old cinema, dating back to the 1940s. On the basis of ‘you’re not using it, and we want a youth centre’, a friend of mine and I ran all over the place finding people to support us, applying for funding and getting in the newspapers. The owner realised that he, oh noes!, might be called upon to do something NICE for the community, something BENEFICIAL to others! That couldn’t be! No longer being able to ignore the problem, what with our stern and business-like faces staring him out from the pages of the local Gazette, he had it torn down and built shiny, shiny expensive flats on the land instead. Can you spell f-a-i-l?

Luckily, others do better at reclaiming land for community usage than we, and one such group has taken over the Factory in the St. Pauls area of Bristol. An old boot manufacturers, then paper factory (they found a shit-ton of corrugated card in one of the rooms), it is now home to between ten and fourteen residents, and plenty of interested friends and strangers, who have cleared the place of rubble, painted over the old graffiti (from previous squatters, not the paper makers [“Wot, no ring-binders?’]), built a kitchen, and are doing their best to set up and host a pleasant, rent-free space for the use of the community.
The act of squatting to claim land is the oldest mode of tenure in the world according to Colin Ward (anarchist and squatting expert), and we are all descended from squatters, even the Queen. So, just like institutionalised homophobia and racism, it’s traditional! We’re allowed. There are a variety of reasons for squatting, but many based around the fact that people are homeless and houses are empty. Jim Radford, a long-time organiser with the Advisory Service for Squatters, points out that squatting can seen as political, but most people are just doing what they can to a get a roof over their heads. The personal, however, is always political and the fact that one person can ‘own’ property they don’t use while others are moved along nightly for the perceived crime of not having anywhere else to go is, frankly, illogical. And fucking nuts.

The Factory aims to be a social centre for the use of anybody who has a project or a plan or a pair of hands to help with, and while the occupiers may not be overtly political, the place definitely makes a statement about the self-interested, self-aggrandising attitude we are presented with daily in ‘mainstream’ society. I dropped by prior to one of their open days, had a tour and spent the best part of twenty minutes attacking a Venetian blind with a Stanley knife to help fix it in time for the film showing the next day. The place is huge and a hive of activity as residents and fellow droppers-in painted walls, put up shelves, cooked and made delicious vegan cakes for the next day. The first two floors are used for social gatherings, comprising the trapeze teaching area, film screening room, kiddie area (where some big kids were playing with drills and putting wooden animals up around the walls) the soon-to-be community kitchen, bike enclosure, zine library and function room, with apothecary! The top two floors are residential from which the delicious smell of carrot cake spills out of the enormous and gorgeous handmade kitchen, and the roof is where the herb garden lives and gives an amazing view of the rooftop world of Bristol. It is better than any house I know that people have paid to live in.

Squatting itself is not illegal since it is considered a civil matter. (Also, trespassers cannot be prosecuted! The things you learn…) Most squats have a copy of Section 6 of the Criminal Law act 1977 up at the front door, and so long as squatters have secure access to the building and at least one person is always on-site the owner and/or police cannot break in to ‘regain’ access. Many landlords discourage squatting by gutting their unused residences, destroying the stairs and dismantling the plumbing. Better an empty and destroyed house than people live in it without monetary profit to someone who claims ownership! Some people are not put off by such petty indulgences however. As I was led around the cavernous and intricate building (there are ladders, everywhere) I was told about the rubble filling some of the rooms and the graffiti left by the previous squatters…both long gone.

Every month the Factory hosts an open day, providing vegan cake (I really, really liked the cake) and informal guided tours with historical facts (“Here’s where we had the rubble party…a Brazilian football team stayed in this room…”), a fruit and veg stall (skipped!) and films shown in the cinema. On Thursdays, meetings are held to discuss ways of utilising the space which people want to put into practice, as well as just getting to know who’s who and what they do. The website encourages anyone to drop in for a cup of tea and a chat if they happen to wander by, although Mondays through Wednesdays are designated work days if you fancy getting your hands dirty.

Prior to the open day I had dropped in for a talk on Men Against Patriarchy but nobody I asked seemed to know there was a meeting going on. Such are non-hierarchical organisations, I find. Not disorganised, but few with a complete knowledge of what goes on! Having been used to Brownies and Guides and showing up, sitting down and getting told what the agenda is for the day, to show up, wander round and be expected to create my own agenda is a little disconcerting. On the open day itself, after snaffling some dark chocolate and apricot refrigerator cake, I sat upstairs in the function room reading a zine about sexism in anarchist organisations, feeling cosy, if not involved. The gent there to give the talk on guerilla gardening wandered in and we bonded with over vegan cake and Veggies burgers. Later I ventured out and chatted to Theo, who advised me to talk to Darren if I was interested in one day running my own community café since the next big in-Factory project is getting the downstairs kitchen set up for just that reason and Darren was the guy who did most of the fruit and veg skipping. So! I did not find Darren that day but hopefully the Factory will continue to be occupied by these people who want to turn it into a safe and comfortable place for all and any sorts of people, who may or may have anywhere else to go, but who share a common interest in, well, each other and the community in which they live.

Categories ,anarchist, ,bristol, ,Colin Ward, ,factory, ,squat, ,squatting, ,St Pauls, ,vegan

Similar Posts: