Richard meets the squatters

Wednesday 28 November 2012

“I must admit the thought of living without running water, without electricity…the thought of squatting has never filled me with anything other than repulsion," says Richard, before embarking on a tour of the country meeting squatters in Madeley Meets The Squatters on ITV1, Thursday 6 December at 9pm.

There is anything between 20,000 and 50,000 people squatting in the UK today, mostly portrayed as drink and drug-taking freeloaders who contribute nothing to society. But how much of that is true?

With a new law having just come into force making squatting a criminal offence, Richard takes to the road to meet these future offenders, to see what their lives are really like and find out why they squat, examining how the change in the law will impact on the current situation faced by both squatters and landlords.

Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove and the architect behind the new law, tells Richard: “The first thing we want to do is protect people’s homes, they’re just freeloaders, they’re not contributing to society and they are taking what’s not theirs.”

It’s estimated there are nearly a million empty properties in the UK, despite homelessness being on the rise. Along his journey, Richard visits a squat in the heart of the Barbican, a five-storey commercial building worth millions where even the new law is powerless to evict the squatters because it is not a domestic property.

Catherine Brogan is one of its inhabitants: “The owner isn’t interested in bringing this property back into use. To them I think it’s just a number on a balance sheet. This is a £20million asset to them and why do they want to do anything with it?

“I think that if you’re going to leave a property empty then we’ve got a responsibility to come in and use it and I feel happy that I’m taking something that’s been laid waste and turning it into a home.”

Richard visits a former pub in Walthamstow, used as a squat for five years. Nigel Jenkins owns the garage opposite and explains what he has seen in the past: “Nine o’clock in the morning they are drunk out of their skulls. First thing in the morning we come in…they have used the driveway as toilets.”

Despite this he admits: “Everyone sees them as an inconvenience but nobody sees the amount of trouble these people are in. What are you going to do with them? Unless you can re-house them, there’s nothing you can do with them.”

Richard then heads to Bristol, where he discovers that local squatters have organised themselves into groups, with their own planning committee that meets each week to help members find new squats to live in. “I like to think of us as urban wombles, we roam the streets that aren’t being used and we make a use of them,” says one squatter. “How can you argue the morality of that? We don’t pay rent, no, but at least people aren’t sleeping rough.”

Richard introduces landlord Dave Durant to the squatters who have occupied a property he owns in south Bristol: “I know that the place was locked, you know that the place was locked. I know, that you must have broken into my house.”

Squatter Tristan refuses to confirm how he gained access but is keen to respond: “If people are suffering they should be allowed to sleep under a roof, especially if it lies dormant like this one.” He tells Richard: “Until you’ve been in our position and suffered like we have, you’re going to find it hard to have a balanced view.”

Richard also joins a group of squatters on a skipping trip – foraging for thrown out food behind supermarkets, also a criminal offence. “We are stealing bread that is destined for landfill. It’s absolutely ridiculous isn’t it, which is why I’m doing it so openly,” says one squatter. “If the police want to arrest me, I’ll take the charge.”

Madeley Meets The Squatters airs on ITV1 on Thursday 6 December at 9pm.

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  • The last paragraph, re-skip raiders. For a month I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find out from 1), Tesco and 2) Trading Standards, why food beyond its " sell-by " date, cannot be donated to worthy groups. Eventually, Tesco said it was Trading Standards that set the dates.Tried to reach TS and was led to Citizens Advice bureau, who´s opening gambit was "This site cannot answer consumer questions". Question; Why cannot food items have two dates. A sell-by and a Use-by with two or three weeks between. Once past the sell by the items could be safely donated. Surely, it is not beyond the wit of man to devise such a system. How many of us have bought items and kept them at home and not used them for long after the sell-by. Richard, with your high profile and investigative journalistic skills, I´m certain you get a result...

    Pete Singleton

  • as someone who used to squat and now owns his own home I would just like to say well done for taking a serious look at this issue and dispelling so many of the myths about squatting. squatters don't invade people's homes but house themselves in vacant and derelict properties thus stopping themselves from being homeless and saving other taxpayers the cost of housing them.

    Phil

  • hello, im mr, philip cahilll i used to live in walthamstow at that time it was a lovely place to live in as the area was treated with respect it was so clean you could eat ya dinner off the floor. but now years later its got so[flower]that no one wants to be living in an area such as st, james street especially where that pub is .the artfull dodger. the whole of that area has gone to pot basically theres no respect no more its such a shame i cant believe it .i now live in another part of east london where its a better off cleaner now, thank god. if waltham forest council could try to build something there where the pub is situated things just might get going, its called making an affort waltham forest council.

    philip cahill