Party with Suspenses at Kentish Town’s infamous squat

Tomorrow night (March 21), the guardians of the former Pizza Express building are putting an evening of performance, art, music and fashion to show how empty urban spaces can allow creativity to flourish

Inside the 1920s former poly and, more recently, Pizza Express building. Photo: Night of Suspenses
Inside the 1920s former poly and, more recently, Pizza Express building. Photo: Suspenses

My mum was horrified when, for want of a better word, I told her I’d spent the evening hanging out in a Kentish Town squat.

Perhaps I ought to have specified that it was an abandoned building currently inhabited by a group who would describe themselves as property guardians. Or maybe she would’ve dozed off at that point.

The pile in question is, of course, the former Pizza Express on Kentish Town Road, which has found itself at the centre of what the guardians would describe as a “social movement”.

Everything is cyclical: inside the squat
Everything is cyclical: keeping busy inside.
Initially the current residents entered the property without permission, setting about cleaning up the mess left over when it was deserted, a task which took three days. They now have permission from the landlord to reside there until it’s put back into use – as a future indie cinema and/or residential flats, if the grapevine is to be trusted.

As you can see from these shots, the interior has already been transformed and is studded with art work in preparation for an event that will be hosted by the Suspenses collective tomorrow, March 21.

Wearing hand-painted masks of porcelain dolls with cracked faces - which took them 22hrs to paint. The masks symbolise the broken people in society who hide behind their 'public face'.
The Suspenses wearing hand-painted masks of porcelain dolls with cracked faces. Photo: Suspenses
An evening of performance, art, music and fashion, the Height of Suspenses aims to highlight the possibility for using empty urban spaces to provide a platform for creativity to flourish; all too often it’s the case that artists, musicians and performers are hindered by a lack of money and space with which to exhibit their work. But what was it about the Pizza Express building that caught the Suspenses’ attention?

Poster for tomorrow's event
Poster for tomorrow’s event
“Camden and Kentish Town are quite iconic when it comes to London’s cultural heritage,” says Gee, seasoned squatter and event organiser, “and the building itself is amazing. I think it’s important to give credit to the owner for coming to an agreement with the guys living there so that it doesn’t just remain cold, dead and empty. If only more landlords and owners were like that.”

“Suspenses was set up to show how important spaces like this are to the cultural wellbeing of society,” says Gee. “An empty building in your area is a resource for your local community that you simply should be able to use. Once upon a time this was common: post war communities would get together, rebuild and re-use bombed out or abandoned buildings for the common good. And I think we could use a bit of that Blitz spirit right now when times are tough for everyone.”

The NoS pose outside the awful Ringley's graffiti. Let's hope that's intentional
Ironic? The posse pose beside “graffiti” commissioned by Ringley property surveyors to brighten up the doomed Castle building.
The team behind Height of Suspenses have already proved the merit behind this thinking at previous locations in east London, where they found that musicians in particular benefited from having a social space in which to meet, practice and perform. Whilst the night will be very much a party with DJs and dancing after the show, there is, of course, the political element to the night.

The Suspenses are not about making profit, although they’ll be charging £5 entry on the door to help cover their costs. That said, participants work on a voluntary basis and all materials are salvaged and recycled where possible. They are keen to involve local residents, so if you’d like to get involved on the creative side – to model on the catwalk, share a fashion range, exhibit art work, try out your performance skills in spoken word or visual arts – just stroll down to the old Pizza Express, knock on the door and meet the new neighbours.

This is box title
Height of Suspenses takes place this Friday 21st March at The Old Pizza Express, Kentish Town Road, NW1 8TP. Doors open at 8pm, show starts at 9pm. £5 Spaces are limited. More info

  • Show Comments

  • Jay

    Oh grow up Kentishtowner! If you love the neighbourhood so much, why do you continue to support and publicise this idiocy? It’s a nightmare for us local residents.

  • Fleur Disney

    Sorry to hear you’ve had a bad experience with it; we’re all local residents but have only seen the positive side. What’s your experience? We’ve only heard the good stuff from other residents.

  • dave

    “Guardians” protect or defend something. What are they protecting this building from?

    • Fleur Disney

      General decay. These guys pay the bills and keep the place in good working order until the owners are ready to put the building to new use.

      In other news the show last night went down very well – the place was packed and everything was remarkably civilised. Special mention to the gingerbread daiquiris being served at the (licensed) bar . . !

  • Dave

    “General decay”? A building isn’t a flower, wilting away within days of not being used. It’ll do just fine shuttered up for a few months. I’m all for these kind of spaces being put to use and glad everyone is having a great time, but it’s just that… a great time.

  • Kelly

    I think it is great that responsible people are using the space for the community. It is much better that the place is used by these people than to be left shut for an unknown amount of time while the owners decide what to do with it. Sometimes buildings are left for years and so this does help with avoiding general decay. These guys also deter irresponsible squatting, so great stuff. In the meantime, there is lots of fun to be had by the community and hopefully the owner will allow for something interesting to be placed there after because Kentish Town could do with it 🙂