Last Thursday night a group of Occupy London campaigners took over a sprawling UBS-owned building on Sun Street, EC1, in an act of what they called ‘public repossession’. By Saturday the space was open to the public as the ‘Bank of Ideas’; offering talks on surveillance society, the Robin Hood tax, and the scrapping of the EMA, spoken-word performances, a reading by novelist James Miller, and a comedy set from Mark Thomas. Jon Day went down to have a look around this huge new space:
The building has been empty since the 1990s, and most of the vast space still is. Upstairs, ghostly to-do lists and slightly foxed Dilbert cartoons adorn the walls, left behind by the previous inhabitants. Some of the offices have mattresses and sleeping bags in them; some half-finished banners. Most are empty.
On the roof I found what looked like a caretaker’s flat, full of abandoned possessions. Books line the shelves: ‘Employment Law 1991’; ‘Farrar’s Company Law’; ‘Cost Benefit Analysis’. A huge Le Creuset casserole sat on the worktop in the kitchen. In the bathroom we found a copy of the ‘Financial Times’ from 1990 lying beside the toilet, with a picture of Margaret Thatcher splashed across the front page.
Back downstairs, I sat in the conference room and listened to spirited discussions about the future of the Labour Party, the immorality of bankers, the proliferation of CCTV cameras and Nicholas Shaxton speaking about his book ‘Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men Who Stole the World’. In the middle of his talk a man rushed in and announced that the EDL were attacking the Occupy camp in Finsbury Square, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
According to the Guardian, half a million buildings across the UK are empty. As I trooped back into the warmth, I thought that the ‘Bank of Ideas’ might be one good way to use them.
The ‘Bank of Ideas’ will be running a programe of events and offering spaces to those who have been affected by the cuts. Stay up to date at bankofideas.org.uk.