Meet Vivien Duffield’s new friends: squatters
A GROUP of squatters who compare themselves to the “wandering Jews” of Christian legend — but who are not in fact Jewish — have taken over the building intended to house Dame Vivien Duffield’s new Jewish Community Centre for London.
The circus performers and artists, who call themselves Circle Community Projects, moved into the former Mercedes showroom on Finchley Road, North-West London, last Tuesday.
They say they got in through an unlocked door and did not know who owned the building.
Now they plan to live there until it is demolished for rebuilding and use it as a “base for environmental exhibitions”.
One of them, Peter Phoenix, said: “We’re not your average squatters. We pay the electricity bills and the council tax, clean the place up and take care of security at no cost. The owners would save money by having us here, money that could be redirected into the Jewish community.
“All we want in return is a place to stay and get our message out about the environment. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.”
Another, who asked not to be named, said: “Like the wandering Jews, we needed shelter and this place is it. We’re really pleased to find out that it is going to be a Jewish community centre because community is what we’re all about.
“In fact, if the owners want help preparing the place, some of us would volunteer our services.”
They claim to be part of a global network of groups that combine perform- ance with an environmental message. They have already begun work on making the rooms habitable. Upstairs, they have begun clearing 10 flats, ready to decorate them.
They are sleeping on mattresses and bedding they found in the street and using fan heaters while they work on repairing broken windows and doors.
The old showroom floor, which once displayed expensive cars, has no lighting but, behind black tarpaulin hung against the windows, it is being mopped clean ready to stage exhibitions.
The JCC bought the building last December with the intention of launching the new centre, the brainchild of philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield.
It is due to open in 2011, but a lack of temporary planning permission for exhibitions means the building should stay empty until it is demolished in 2009.
Nick Viner, chief executive of the JCC, said he had been aware of the squatters since Friday.
“I’m annoyed that they broke into my building and I have instructed our lawyers to begin legal proceedings to secure their eviction,” he said.
The Jewish Community Centre’s squatters say they will keep the place clean