Meet Vivien Duffield’s new friends: squat­ters

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY ROB DAVIES

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

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