News this week that squatters at the former North London Poly/Pizza Express building had staged a cultural event brought back a flood of memories for me.
When I was a student there in the 90s, the Arts and Humanities campus of the University of North London was so far removed from the university’s main Holloway Road site that it felt like an independent outpost. Most of the students weren’t vocational, just interested in education and life. There was a great bar with a free-thinking atmosphere and Thursday nights were legendary, ending up in the Marathon kebab house, via the Monarch pub.
But in 1994 the university managers seemed intent on one thing only; making money. Food was expensive, photocopying exorbitant and courses that weren’t economically viable had to go. One of these was classics, that cornerstone of all learning and one we thought should be offered by any respectable university. An extraordinary meeting of the student union was called and it was decided that action would be taken.
The main doors to the building were chained shut. Access could only be gained via a monitored small side door. The University of North London Kentish Town campus was under occupation. After the meeting staff had been asked to leave the building and students had taken control.
Over the next few days learning resources were open to students, exams were fast approaching and nobody wanted to stop other students having access to revision material. The kitchens were opened and students provided healthy, wholesome, home-cooked affordable food.
The Socialist Workers tried to take it over but they couldn’t and it stayed an occupation by people who cared but didn’t want to ‘smash the state’. The university authorities issued a summons for eviction proceedings but they’d left a page out of their evidence. At the hearing the judge, with a wry smile, sided with us but stressed he was only going to give us a stay of execution rather than a reprieve. In the period of that ‘stay of execution’ the Evening Standard and Daily Telegraph ran sympathetic articles harking back to the spirit of Paris in 1968.
When the university managers sought costs for damages to locks and doors, the Student Union held a benefit gig in the bar at the Prince of Wales building and the live band was The Buzzcocks; an amazing night.
Like many other people involved in the occupation I was just a student who cared about the way things were run there. Most of us were completely without political allegiance – we just thought it important to make a stand.
The building also hit the headlines in the 80s, when students protestted against prominent National Front member Patrick Harrington being permitted to study a philosophy degree. Were you there? Want to tell us about it? Email firstname.lastname@example.org