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”.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.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?“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 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.