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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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  Inside Out - West: Monday June 9, 2003

SQUATTERS

Fenced off property
Life is not easy for squatters

No running water, no heating and no electricity - sounds like camping, but in fact it is the life of a squatter. Inside Out traces the past year of squatter Satyana.

A disused elderly people's home in St Werburgh's Bristol was once home to squatters.

Satyana began squatting here in summer 2002 after the building had been left empty for over a year.

With no water, gas or electricity, life in a squat is not easy. But with resourcefulness and a little help from the locals, Satyana lived in relative comfort.

He may have been living in comfort, but he was also living with uncertainty. Squatting is a civil offence and squatters can face eviction at any time.

"Why do I do it? Being unable to afford rent elsewhere," explains Satyana. "It's short term accommodation. It's a form of independence as well."

Everybody needs good neighbours

Satyana hates seeing unused buildings going to waste and it seems he is not the only one. Many local residents were also in favour of squatting.

"I think they've got every right to be squatting there really," says one local.

Satiana and Jason eating tea
Helpful neighbours provide water to cook and wash with

"I really don't like to see so many empty buildings around that could be put to good use."

And it's a good job, as Satyana was reliant on the kindness of his neighbours to provide the squat with water.

"We have done nothing to anger or upset the local community," says Satyana. "In fact they like it that we're here and we're using a building that's empty."

The sympathetic attitude of the local community was also helped by rumours that the building may be used as an overnight hostel for the homeless.

Residents prefer squatters who are well known in the community to the daily coming and going of unknown faces. A progressive thinking community or the lesser of two evils?

Off the streets

Homeless man on the street
There are 40,000 people waiting for homes in the South West

In the South West area alone, there are 40,000 people waiting for homes. With 70,000 vacant homes in the area, Satyana sees it as "a blatant misuse of property."

Fellow squatter Jason was homeless before moving into the squat. With the support of fellow squatters, Jason has found a way out of homelessness and drug addiction.

It is not only lives that are improved, but the buildings too believes Satyana.

"Every squatter I know has made a constructive contribution to the buildings they live in," explains Satyana.

And no where is this more pertinent than in the Bristol co-operative Kebele.

Working together

Kebele was a former squat until the residents clubbed together to buy it.

Catwezle who has since passed away, was a founder member of Kebele

"They tried to evict us," explains Catwezle. "We threatened to barricade it up."

Catwezle
Catwezle is a founder member of Kebele

"They thought it's going to cost too much to evict these people, we may as well give them an option on a mortgage."

The success of Kebele was an inspiration to Satyana who had big plans for his squat.

The large kitchen that once catered for its elderly residents could be turned into a community kitchen, a training centre and café.

Broken dreams

Just a few months later and Satyana's plans were crushed. An eviction notice was served on the squatters and they were forced to move out.

Satyana may have moved on, but his hopes for the future haven't changed. He still dreams of a co-operative and ever the optimist - Satyana will not give up.

"I think we should dream the biggest dreams we can and if we can make it practical and possible - that is also good."

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Advisory service for squatters
Kebele
Bristol housing action movement
Squat!net
Citizens Advice
Shelter
Empty homes agency
Squatting - the real story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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