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Sussex students involved in squatting in Stanmer Park

The music room in the farmhouse, one of the rooms aimed at creating new spaces for arts, music and politics for the wider public. Photo: Tom Wills

Sussex students are among a group of squatters who have taken over an 18th century farmhouse in Stanmer Park.
The group of artists and political activists moved in to the spacious property three weeks ago, shortly after the house was vacated by its previous tenants.

The house in Stanmer Village is a ten minute walk from the university campus. Around ten people have been living there at any one time, with others visiting for public events organised by the squatters.

“We’re not squatters just looking for a place to live,” one explained. “We’re actually trying to do something for the community.” The group have squatted a succession of buildings in Brighton and Hove since April, aiming to create spaces for art, music and politics for general public use.

Six bedrooms have been set aside for the squat’s permanent residents, while a further six are used for public events and workshops.
The squatters have posted a notice on the front door of the house asserting their legal rights and warning they will prosecute anyone who attempts to enter by force.
The house is owned by Brighton & Hove City Council, which cannot legally evict the squatters before obtaining a court order.

The Council has filed a claim for possession of the property, due to be heard in Brighton County Court on Monday 11 October. Assuming the Council’s claim is successful, bailiffs could arrive to evict the squatters in a matter of days or weeks.
The squatters say they plan to remain in the building as long as possible and have not ruled out the possibility of physically resisting eviction. “Some of us really want to put up a fight,” said one.

Councillor Gill Mitchell, leader of the Labour group on the council and chair of the trust which manages the property, said: “The Brighton and Hove Estates Conservation Trust is currently taking legal action to regain possession of the property so that it can be re-let to local people in accordance with the Trust’s policy.”
“We want to get away from that stereotypical image of squats being a place to get smashed,” says squatter Adam Sonfield.

He was one of a small group which set out to create a squat that was about more than simply providing a roof over their heads. “We said, ‘let’s try and create a squat where there’s space to do things.’

“A lot of the time in squats there’s not a lot of things to do – just talk about drugs or smoke a cigarette and talk bollocks. But if there’s an art room, a music room, if there’s supplies then people can feel free to go around and get involved.
“It’s your own responsibility how much you want to take part in it. In uni and in general it’s always organised by an institution or a teacher or a leader, but this is showing that it’s all up to us as individuals and as a group – we can work in more anarchistic ways. ”

Robbin, another squatter and former Sussex student, said: “The music room down here is great. It’s in the basement, there’s loads of amps, there’s a drum kit, there’s guitars everywhere.
“The sound doesn’t leak out much. We can play all through the night. The nearest neighbours are a good hundred yards away.”

The squatters are planning a “family fun day” in an effort to foster good relations with their neighbours in the sleepy village of Stanmer. The group are passionate about giving something to the community – and not being a burden on the state. They are frustrated that the Council does not take a more permissive approach to squatting by allowing them to live in buildings that would otherwise be empty, although they admit that their current home could be let out if they were not there.

Robbin, who has been squatting in Brighton for several months, explains: “I’ve made a choice that I’d rather do voluntary stuff – and music – this last year, rather than work full-time. So while doing that, instead of claiming from the state for everything I’ve been more self-reliant.”

“There’s two big houses owned by the council that are still empty – they were empty before we moved in, they’re still empty now that we’ve moved out of them. If we were allowed to still be in there we wouldn’t be in this place which they could otherwise be letting.”

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