Hackney is just one of the many boroughs victims of gentrification. Gentrification consists of attracting rich people to allegedly deprived areas, by closing down public services or small businesses that working class people would be using, and building luxury flats in their place. But in practice, it drives people out of an area they can no longer afford, since services like schooling or libraries are no longer offered.

Gentrification has been going on in Hackney for many years now. I remember meeting school teacher in Hackney six years ago. He told us in tears how the council was closing down schools and nurseries, how the parents of the children of one of the nurseries to be closed had occupied it after receiving a simple letter telling them not to bring their children to the nursery the next day. They eventually abandoned the occupation with the promise that the nursery would be re-opened. It wasn’t, it was all a lie – so we squatted the nursery and kept the community centre open for about four months. This was only the first occupation against gentrification in Hackney.

Since then, the group Hackney not for Sale was created, and many more buildings, some former homes of council services, some local businesses, were squatted, and houses of auctions were picketed and even entered to make the sell-offs impossible, or at least difficult. On one occasion, one woman that attended to bid for one of the properties, refused to offer any money after hearing what the local residents had to say.


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(published on Indymedia)

Dalston Theatre Eviction

In Hackney, east London, two Georgian houses are under threat. The adjacent building is currently occupied by the group Everything4Everyone but is facing imminent eviction – and demolition. There is still no sign of the bailiffs, but helicopters frequently fly over, and cctv cameras keep a beady eye on the occupiers.

Act local!

The buildings, which we have come to know as “the theatre”, are among the earliest ever built in Dalston Lane and are listed by Hackney Council as having special character and interest. Despite this, they want to demolish them. The reason? A state-of-the-art underground station is planned for next door. Property speculation in the area has rocketed, and it will continue to increase as construction of the station approaches. Add to this the London Olympics – to be celebrated down the road – and you get the picture. This pattern of council sell-offs and gentrification is not confined to Hackney. Typical gentrification attracts rich people to allegedly deprived areas, by closing down public services or small businesses that working class people use, and sees private developers build luxury flats in their place. It drives local people out of an area that they can no longer afford to live in, and where fewer public services are left on offer.

Making our voices heard

In Hackney the local residents do not want a state-of-the-art boxlike business or commercial centre. However, the wishes of the local community have been ignored and in one case even silenced, when the public were denied entry to a supposedly “public” council meeting. When people are denied the right to influence the decisions of their “democratic” officials and when they are met with a negative response from the police when trying to make their voices heard, they are left with two possible paths. One option is to turn to the courts and seek to force the public institutions to at least respect their own laws and guidelines. The environmental and community action company, Organisation for Promotion of Environmental Needs Limited, OPEN, took this path. The other option is to go and occupy the premises to prevent the demolition. This is what Everything4Everyone did.

Rooftop retreat

We entered the building the night before the council was planning to come in and make the final preparations for demolition. They arrived in the morning, only to find that the theatre and adjacent buildings had been squatted. In response they did two things: they chased the squatters with their construction tools until they had to escape onto the roof, and they took us to court, but not to the county court – which is where usually Interim Possession Orders are issued – they went to the High Court. The difference would have been that, if the court had accepted their case and we had resisted the eviction, we would have faced six-month prison sentences. But the court didn’t accept the council’s case; council officers then managed to book a slot in the county court for two days later. While we waited for the eviction’s legal process to run its course, we repaired the building we had secured, rebuilt the staircase that the council had destroyed in order to make the building uninhabitable, and carried out other general repairs.

Community spirit

For two weeks one of us stayed on the roof of the theatre. Since then we have hosted Food Not Bombs events, guerrilla screenings at the square opposite, samba band sessions on the streets and, every Friday, we have been organising a cafe with open mic sessions. And now the final injunction that prevented the council from demolishing the buildings has just run out. We have never been short of people bringing us food or tools, but since we put out an alert via Indymedia the response has been massive. We had a special night of celebration on 20 October beginning in the square opposite with activities for kids, bike repair and samba workshops, and ending up inside the theatre itself for open mic jam and community cinema sessions.

Resistance in daily life

Resistance happens every day, not just with every eviction, not even with every occupation, but in our everyday lives. The group that came together to defend the theatre will not end here, even if we do get evicted. We are already planning to open another space like this one and make it available for the community like this one. Anyone wanting to participate should just turn up at the theatre or contact us by email (below). At the moment we are keeping the cafe open every day from 12 to 7pm, so this is a good time to visit and to talk with the people involve in the space.


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(published in Peace News)

Dalston Theatre

Dalston Theatre – Timeline

Although for most of e4e the story began that night when we finally decided to go an occupy the Theatre, for the Theatre itself the story began much earlier… This is an attempt to glimpse their history.

1860’s – The railway first arrives in Dalston and the remaining houses in the terrace are cleared to clear the path.

After the railway’s arrival, an open air circus used the cleared ground around the Georgian houses.

1886 – The building known today as Dalston Theatre is built.

1 November 1886 – The North London Colosseum and Amphitheatre open for its first season on. The new circus building can accommodate 4,000 spectators.

1898 – The building is converted to a Victorian variety theatre, seating just over 3,000 people.

1920 – With the advent of the cinema age, the building becomes the Dalston Picture House. Fortunes are spent on the conversion.

1960s – The advent of television sees the closure of many of Dalston’s 12 cinemas. It is time for the building to reinvent itself again.

1967 – The entrance buildings on Dalston Lane become ‘The Club Four Aces’ host to internationally renowned black musicians. Stevie Wonder, Desmond Decker, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, Billy Ocean, Ben E King and many other international stars either perform or are guests here.

1970s – Home to Count Shelly and other reggae Sound Systems.

1977 – Hackney Council buys the buildings site for £1.8million from Tesco.

1990s – The main auditorium becomes the legendary drum and bass & Acid House club, The Labyrinth.

1995 – The Council declares the Gaumont Cinema suitable for redevelopment.

1997 – Hackney Council serves compulsory purchase notices to the theatre building’s tenants and the occupiers of all the buildings are evicted.

1997 – The roof coverings are removed and rain begins to destroy the interior. This prevents the building from being listed by English Heritage, which would have made it very difficult to obtain permission for demolition.

1998 – The buildings are boarded up.

2004 – New plans are drawn to extend the East London Line up through Hackney to Dalston and to build a new bus station. The original station entrance is quietly concealed behind hoardings and demolished.

August 2005 – A Council surveyor who inspects the buildings 2005 is unable to show evidence of any of the allegations brought by a Council spokeswoman in order to justify the demolition of the Theatre, namely concerns about asbestos, squatters and drug users and that the buildings are structurally unsound.

Sometime between 18 October 2005 and 16 December 2005 – The Victorian houses at 4-6 Dalston Lane are deliberately damaged and made uninhabitable by the removal of the staircases.

24 November 2005 – Hackney Council posts a demolition notice on the 1886 Dalston Theatre and 1820’s “locally listed” Georgian buildings. The Notice states that the Council intends to demolish the buildings in “early 2006”. OPEN issues a judicial review application in the High Court which includs an injunction application to restrain Hackney Council from proceeding to demolish the buildings.

13 December 2005 – The High Court proceedings are issued and the Council accepts the need to make a full planning application for demolition.

6 February 2006 – The Council’s application for total demolition comes before a Planning Sub-Committee. Despite an overwhelming number of objections, the Planning Sub-Committee votes to demolish the buildings in their entirety, on condition that, prior to demolition, there must first be a survey to record historical structural and architectural detail of the buildings and expressed hope that the more notable elements could be relocated in the redevelopment of the site or elsewhere.

29 November 2005 – 34 Broadway Market, the premises of Franscesca’s Café, subsequently known as Tony’s Cafe, are occupied in protest against ongoing corruption allegations and aggressive gentrification in Hackney. The café was due to be demolished at 8 in the morning of Monday 28 November to make way for luxury flats. (click for more info)

20 December 2005 – A High Court injunction is issued preventing any demolition work until a judicial review which will take place in February.

21 December 2005 – Tony’s cafe is evicted.

26 December 2005 – Boxing Day – Tony’s cafe is reoccupied.

6 February 2006 – The planning sub-committee meets to decide on the application to demolish the Dalston Theatre/Four Aces and adjoining buildings. Hackney Council’s Planning Department have recommended that the buildings be demolished. Although the Committee are not obliged to follow their recommendation, they decide to vote for total demolition, disregarding the objections raised by heritage agencies, community groups, local market traders, businesses, arts groups and residents of Dalston, and acknowledge that Councillors have not been presented with any plans for what will replace the historic buildings. The decision is greeted by loud protest from the 60 members of the public who had succeeded in attending the meeting, despite the council’s confused attempts earlier in the evening to limit public entry to just half the public gallery’s usual capacity. 100 people had peacefully protested outside the Town Hall before the meeting started.

Sunday 19 February 2006 evening – The buildings are occupied by the group Everything 4 Everyone (name taken from the declaration of the Zapatista Encuentro in 1998)

Monday 20 February 2006 – Council workers, contractors and demolishers arrive early in the morning to start the preparations for the demolition.They proceeded to illegally enter the building. Banging on doors and destroying whatever is on their way, they chase the sqatters, who have to scape to the roof, and they stay there defending it.

Also, Tony’s cafe is evicted again and the people behind it join forces with the Theatre.

Tuesday 21 February 2006 – High Court finds in favour of OPEN in its claim that Hackney Council, in late 2005, made an unlawful attempt to demolish the historic buildings at 4-14 Dalston Lane, without public consultation, and orders Hackney Council to pay up OPEN’s legal costs.

Monday 27 February 2006 – The social centre opens and hosts multiple events until this date.

Wednesday 1 March 2006 – The squatters are cited at the Royal Court of Justice on The Strand. The High Court rules that the application by Hackney Council for possession of the occupied theatre and buildings in Dalston should not have been made to the high court, and the judge refuses to rule on it..

Friday 3 March 2006. – After being treated with utter contempt by the judge at Shoreditch County Court, the occupiers of Dalston Theatre are served with an interim possession order. Eviction can now happen at any time.

Monday 6 March 2006 – A woman is still living on the roof of the Theatre and the lower levels are guarded by paid security guards.

30 March 2006 – A Hackney Council Planning Sub-Committee meets to vote on Transport for London’s proposals for a massive private residential tower block development, which would use £10m of public funds but fail to provide any affordable housing. The proposals contravene requirements for large scale developments to allow a substantial percentage (50%) of affordable housing, as set out in Mayor of London/Greater London Authority’s ‘London Plan’, and in the Council’s own guidelines.

4 September – The Council grants planning permission to the London Development Agency to demolish Dalston Theatre and Georgian houses and redevelop the site with tower blocks. The Council claims that whether any of the historic buildings can be repaired and reused is irrelevant.

16 October 2006 – The current court injunction preventing its demolition runs out today and occupiers of the Theatre ask for help as they again face imminent eviction.

20 October 2006 – The bailiffs did not show up so the resistance goes on. Special cafe nights are scheduled; all are welcome as usual.

2 November 2006 – Bailiffs turn up at 4.30 in the morning and we are all out by 9. See you in the next occupied social centre!


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(published on Indymedia)