July 30 2014 Latest news:
Emma Bartholomew, Senior Reporter
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Campaigners in Hackney are distraught that a Grade II listed building they have earmarked to turn into a community centre has been taken over by squatters.
The group of people who have taken over The Old School House in Lea Bridge Road, Lower Clapton, and are allegedly defecating and urinating in the yard behind a makeshift curtain, have been quick to remind passers-by of their rights.
A typed note stuck on the gates explains that as the building is not residential, they are entitled to occupy it until a claim is made in the county court for repossession.
They have also warned anyone thinking of entering the building using violence they will press for prosecution, which entails six months prosecution and a £5,000 fine.
“Take notice that we occupy this property and at all times there is at least one person in occupation,” it says, alongside another notice saying they have a dog.
In 2009 housing developer Vision Homes a section 106 agreement was signed promising the 18th century building could be turned into a community heritage centre in return for securing planning permission to build housing on Paradise Dock nearby.
But the community needed to raise around half a million pounds which it has still not managed to do.
Now Vision Homes wants to convert the dilapidated building into two two-bedroom flats, and last September put in a planning application for change of use from a visitor centre and museum to residential.
Cllr Linda Kelly, who has been leading the Clapton Arts Trust community group bid for a Heritage Lottery Fund, is fearful the historic building – which was once a mission school for the children of itinerant riverboat people and workers – will be damaged by the squatters.
“We are so afraid, we are worried they will damage the heritage part of the building or they could start a fire in there,” she said.
“The building needs so much tender loving care to bring it back to its former glory and these people aren’t helping that at all.
She continued: “If you close your eyes and picture the schoolroom with cobbled streets on one side, it’s so quaint and authentic, you go back to the time it was built, people have asked for film shoots there, it’s that beautiful.
“We’re wondering how they got into it in the first place because the gate is coded.
“It’s one of the last remaining legacies Hackney has and it’s a shame to see this has happened.”
The squatters declined to comment, as did Vision Homes.