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Social Centre Interview: Aspire Leeds Dec 03








I spent a few days in Leeds harassing the good folk at Aspire with my video camera. Interview with Cath from Aspire below. Watch this space for details on video on Aspire.  


 What is Aspire?

Aspire is a squatted social space that means that ‘we’ - an ever changing collective - decide to find a building & then create a space that people are inspired by & feel creative in where they can work with others & have fun, & do it without having to pay for everything & be a consumer. Most social spaces you go in you buy what they offer & those are your only options but here you can do what you want to do. Its open & its creative.

 Tell me a little about the history of Aspire.

Aspire started about 4 years ago the first squat cafe in Leeds wasn’t called aspire (it was called the Cook History café) The second squat was a huge church & the name Aspire came out of a very interesting collective decision making process. This is the 7th squat & it’s been quite short 10 days. 

(& we had no trouble or interest from the authorities we haven’t had the police come around or a landlord come around we got a letter from the council finance department today asking us to complete a questionnaire for non domestic rate purposes) move to authorities question….

What’s the idea with temporary social space? Why not establish a permanent social space?

There aren’t any permanent spaces in Leeds at the moment that is non-commercial; only pubs & clubs were people hang out. Unlike other cities there isn’t a group of people wanting to set up a permanent space. (Well that was true until recently there is a group now who want to set up a venue & rehearsal space). Aspire is a temporary space because the people involved don’t have the time to commit to it all the time. Aspire is a very intense experience.  You have to have people living here because it’s a squat.

How many people have been involved in this event over the last 10 days?

We opened the building to the public on the 15th of December.  Since then there’s been about 50 or 60 people involved. There have been at least 350 people through the doors for the party night for the films, benefit gigs & there’s been a queer night & a really good range of events. I spoke to lots of people I hadn’t met before who didn’t know anything about it & were dragged along by friends or came along for the party & then stayed.

Over the last 10 days did you experience any problems with the authorities?

No interest.

Quite unusual. Can’t remember any previous squats where they haven’t been interested. Previous squats were we’ve used council property we had council officers round when we used university property we were taken to court. When we used the property of a private landlord they tried to block of the water supply & we’ve always had police interest but this time we’ve had nothing.

What kinda advice would you give to people who want to embark on a similar venture?

Doing a squat café is a really full-on experience you need to have a strong group to make sure that enough people staying over all the time, that there are going to be enough people to put on events that electricity is going to be ok that water is going to be ok. The advice that I would give to anyone who is going to do something this public with this much stuff going on make sure you’ve got a really good group & that it works well together.

Other kinds of social centres are there in the UK can you give us a scene report?

 There’s quite a strong social centre scene in the UK Aspire has been going for a few years there’s the Occasional Café in Manchester & Eclectic city in Newcastle there are similar kinds of collectives all over the country. There are also two new social centres in Brighton & Nottingham that are permanent & legal spaces plus the old ones like the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh 1in12 in Bradford. I think people are beginning to see the need for creating our own informal places were we can meet or where people can be attracted who aren’t directly in our social circles. It’s like a form of outreach about anarchist politics, community organising, & environmental politics. Without this kind of space people often don’t get to know about that stuff & we’re not very good a lot of the time of communicating. So this is a nice way of getting to know new people.

The reason that I like temporary social spaces are the lack of bureaucracy the lack of a need to fulfil criteria to meet legislation the feeling that you can all decide to leave if you want to. But also & most importantly that people coming in are coming into a squat – although legally your aloud to be there – it’s a bit naughty & for some people coming into a squat might be the most radical thing they’ve ever done.  













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