Black sheets are hanging from the third story windows of a large terrace house on Russell Square. Inside, the doors are barricaded and the walls have been adorned with colour, slogans and impassioned poetry. Previously abandoned rooms have become a hub of activity, debate and education. Activists, most of who are students, have been squatting here since last Sunday and have named it the Radical Residency.
It’s the final week of the UCU strikes against pension cuts and compromise still seems far off. Yesterday a possible deal between the strikers and UUK fell through. The timing then, is no coincidence. According to the Radical Residency’s Facebook page:
“The reason we have chosen to do this now is to show solidarity with the UCU strike. The attack on pensions is the latest attack on our education through greater marketisation and commodification. This ideological austerity is pushing people towards greater precarity over the course of our lifetime.
“We call on everyone who wants to contribute and participate to come and reclaim a space in central London to support each other in our endeavour for continuous non-hierarchical learning in which we centre the voices of the most oppressed.”
No revolution is complete without the creation of new space
The occupiers have a busy schedule with the Residency’s page showing an impressive range of activities. In the last few days alone the rooms have been host to boxing classes, poetry workshops, teach-ins, film nights, dance classes, Q+A’s, an open mic and even a knitting class.
While there is an emphasis on solidarity with the strikes and creating an inclusive learning space, the choice of 1 Montague Street as a location is a statement in itself. The building is owned by the British Museum, an institution which some in the Residency see as a shameful hangover of colonial power.
“For centuries Britain has plundered the world and stored its loot in the British Museum. This is a first step towards taking back some of its resources.”
Inside, there is a no photography – “Please remember what we’re doing is illegal,” – unless of the walls, and a general policy of not talking to press. However, one anonymous student agrees to share his impressions with London Student.
“Lefevre said no revolution is complete without the creation of new space,” he grins.
“It’s quite revolutionary. It’s exciting to create new space for other things to emerge. And it’s good to have an alternative place to create new things… instead of just not going to university.”
Another visitor to the space agreed: “The main point was to create an alternative space for learning, and they’ve been very successful in that. So yeah, it’s good.”