A vast space that was once a carpet shop, 156 Kentish Town Road has, after months of vacant dilapidation, been transformed into something constructive.
Upon entry, piles of donated clothes are neatly folded, separated according to gender and arranged by size, spread over multiple mishmash tables. An excited “welcome” emerges from the rows of sofas set up on the right of the entrance. This area is intended to provide a communal space for the squatters and curious by-passers, with tea and biscuits provided as they discuss the current inhabitant’s intentions.
“This is the free shop,” the welcoming voice continues, “where everything is free, apart from me.” As the short-haired woman – who prefers to remain anonymous – enthusiastically walks us through the creatively pieced together shop, she points us to the selection of jackets draped over upturned wooden pallets, and a selection of shoes organised across a two-tier display unit, curated from a piece of wood and the plastic shells of old water dispensers.“We’re just people providing things for people who need them, it is a very simple concept,” she continues. The group asks for an exchange of items if possible, so that they can keep the shop running, but their primary focus is providing clothing for the homeless. The shop also has a range of bedding and household goods and the aim is to provide practical help and support for street homeless people in the borough.
The old carpet shop’s temporary resuscitation comes courtesy of a collaboration of squatter units. One of which is the group we met early this year, who situated themselves in the vacant Beardsmore Gallery, before being flung out by a landlord who deemed it more suitable that a gallery display dust in lieu of art.
The group has joined with Camden Homeless Solidarity, an organisation that according to one of their members, Mark, “teaches people how to deal with homelessness” – by offering clothing, resources, temporary accommodation and, crucially, by providing practical tips on how to survive on the streets, say, or by giving individuals the knowledge and tools on how to squat.
“This isn’t about helping the homeless,” Mark continues, “it is about showing solidarity with them.” The carpet-less showroom currently provides temporary accommodation to two homeless people, but the group are busy clearing space to provide room for more.
The final member of this coalition of squatters is the Streets Kitchen, a group that provides food for homeless people in Hackney, Camden and, as of last Saturday, Kentish Town as well. John, who runs the group, pointed out that “this place has been laying empty for a long while, we are just using it for positive reasons.”People pour in and out of the space, asking how they can contribute, what they should donate or simply meander over to the tea and coffee stand to sip as they browse. The room is teeming with optimism and chatter and, of course, scattered with the obligatory ‘Don’t Vote Tory’ merchandise.
A short wander down Kentish Town Road and Bluston’s, the ladies clothing store that had been running for 84 years prior to its closure last year, plays host to a further group of occupiers.