Leeds ARC | 17.05.2004 16:59 | Free Spaces
A large group of people in Leeds propose to rent a building in Leeds city centre to have a space free of commercial constraints, controlled without leaders by the people that use it, for a wide variety of easily accessible and visible political, social and cultural activities. The building would include a meeting space,cafe,library/bookshop,'freeshop', campaign office facilities, small gigs/events space and more. We want a space radically different from anything most people will have experienced before: a transformatory space. The project is short-term, renting for 9-12 months. We hope this will spark numerous other projects.
To have a space in Leeds city centre for a variety of political, social and cultural activities.
To provide an access point for a host of radical ideas, information and routes into political action.
To build upon the existing links between different groups in Leeds and make new links.
To experiment with putting our diverse political ideas into practice; a space without leaders or the led, a space against and outside the wage economy; and low-impact and ecologically sustainable, to name but three...
We propose to rent a city centre space for a variety of political, social and cultural activities. The things we have in mind are: meeting/ workshop/ activities space, library/ bookshop, 'infoshop' (pamphlets, leaflets, what's happening in Leeds), cafe, 'freeshop', food co-op, health space (preventative/well-being workshops & information), refugee support (English lessons, advice), free internet access, creche for specific events (e.g. when actions are happening), small gig space/ exhibition space, film showing, reading groups and more. We expect to have some form of bar, at least on an occasional basis, but this is still being discussed by the group. Note. the exact events are not fully defined, as this will depend on the building we get, and the space is to be managed by the users, so compromises/ accommodations will have to be made.
We do not want it to be a 'lefty' or 'activist' ghetto. The space must be welcoming. We aim for 'maximum impact', the project is a relatively short-term burst of energy and life in the city centre. We want it to be inspirational: different from any other space in the city centre. Not only the look and 'feel', but they way it is run: without hierarchy, leaders, waged workers, or needless environmental pollution. A key part of the project is that it is explicitly independent, not for profit and collectively run.
The outcomes of the project are many-sided, but principally. (1) the project will consolidate existing political communities: already people from nine groups have come together, building consensus as to the need and desire for a short-term city-centre social centre. (2) the project will be highly visible, giving much easier access to radical and alternative ideas, and routes into these networks, both in Leeds and beyond. Beyond this, with all these different people interacting, in a different environment, in a manner visible to thousands... who knows what will follow...
THE PEOPLE INVOLVED AND A BIT OF HISTORY
People involved in Leeds ARC (Action for Radical Change, see www.leedsarc.org.uk) had been investigating the cost of renting a very small building in Leeds city centre for an info-shop type space to have 'a radical face to Leeds' and let people know that alternative things occur in the city and some routes to further involvement, when we heard about the possibility of money through the Dissent! Network.
In addition, Leeds has a history of occasional squatted social centres, called A-spire (see www.a-spire.org.uk), which we also see as an essential precursor to the current project. These squats have lasted from one weekend to a few months, depending upon the organising collectives plans. Buildings have been varied, from residential to warehouse, with events involving a handful to people to over 1000 at some of the biggest parties.
Oblong Community Resource Centre is an independent, not for profit and collectively run resource centre in North Leeds for people setting up community projects and campaigns and provides office, IT, art and music facilities. They are looking to set up an independent DIY not-for-profit gig venue. There is clear overlap with the social centre idea presented here, however, it was mutually felt that essentially they were not compatible within the same space, but that both projects should co-operate. It is likely that the Oblong venue, being permanent, will take a long time to set up, by which time the Social Centre may have run most of its time (money!). The Social Centre can therefore be a stepping stone and further access point to allow people to get involved in the Oblong gig venue.
Leeds ARC called the first public meeting to discuss whether people in Leeds wanted to organise and run a social centre project and if so of what sort of project this would be, on Thursday May 6th. Between 40-50 people attended the meeting who have worked with a host of Leeds-based groups, but often not each other, including, Leeds ARC, Leeds Indymedia, Peaceniks (anti-war group), Leeds Earth First!, Oblong community resource centre, Leeds MayDay Collective, Student Green Action, Purple Penguin cafe collective, and Aspire. The group is therefore very diverse, with a wealth of experiences and skills to call upon. The aims and project outline, detailed above, were agreed in outline at that meeting (minutes available via www.leeds.indymedia.org.uk). A first draft of this proposal was posted on Leeds IndyMedia for comments, corrections and changes, and discussed at a second meeting on Thursday May 20th. A buildings group has also been formed, zoning the city into sections for sub-groups to investigate our options.
BUILDINGS AND MONEY
£10,000 will provide us with only a very small space in the centre of Leeds, unless we are lucky. We have found one excellent 3-storey building for £15,000 per annum, which is negotiable. However, we have only just begun looking. There would be other outgoings, start-up legal costs, some rates (we would register as a not-for-profit company to reduce/remove these), initial furnishings and equipment, public liability insurance etc. Thus we may well rent for less than 1 year and we will need other revenue. We are considering both asking for small but regular donations from workers with reasonable salaries, and a bar.
RELATIONS WITH DISSENT! NETWORK
Leeds ARC has been involved in the Dissent! Network from its inception. We have attended all three national meetings, and been active in the network subgoups. We are hosting the next Dissent! meeting with the Bradford 1-in-12 club.
OUTSTANDING QUESTIONS - for us, not the funders!
Name? We need a name for the project/building
When to start? For how long? Is September 04-June 05, i.e. 10 months sensible/reasonable?
Should 'we' adopt the PGA (Peoples' Global Action) Hallmarks?
We need to talk about cash, as this will cost more than £10,000
We need to talk about alcohol and having running a bar
How much does public liability insurance cost?