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Disused Buildings of Birmingham Have No Shortage of Occupants

Jack Writer | 24.07.2006 02:50 | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Birmingham

With apartments in the refurbished Rotunda selling for between £150,00 and half a million, many old disused and abandoned buildings are set to be sold off to the highest bidder also -- ignoring the homeless and poor who struggle to live below them, and who are most in need of them.

Like most major cities in the United Kingdom today, Birmingham has experienced stages over the past decade of major growth. Statistics of such economical escalation over the past decade are demonstrated by the numerous construction and development sites dotted and evident all around the city centre; high-rise cranes building on more high-rise buildings, well publicized renovation projects such as the Bullring and New Street train station, building fronts undergoing facelifts of some kind or another.

It is without a doubt, that in the rush for a better look, bigger profit margins and cost cuts, that the one in authority down to the one who walks the prettified pedestrian streets forgets the ones who are living rough underneath these newly adorned buildings. The city’s many building projects seem to exist simply to increase the speed of the economic growth. Land development seems only to be available to those already developed. Yet with so many improvements to new and old buildings alike, little of these properties if any are being dedicated to the faceless rough-sleeper we pass every day.

It is the age-old saying which is a truism if one ever existed; the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. How can one disagree, when despite the city’s economic growth, new facelifts and extra commercial funding, non of these buildings will be housing any of those who struggle to live below them?

In Birmingham Council’s own “Community Strategy for 2005 – 2010” it is said that homelessness applications to the city council are twice above the national average. Twelve thousand and seven hundred people approximately filed for homelessness in 2003, over half of which were “priority cases”, those with young children, the sick or those in need of care.

It is also said that Birmingham will need an extra fifteen thousand new and affordable homes in the next five years to house those claming homelessness. The intention of these new houses is to allow affordable homes for those who need to get a step on the property ladder. Yet what about those who can’t even get to the ladder? Those hindered by homelessness and unemployment alike?

The cycle of “no-work no-home” is easy to understand: many people cannot get a job because they are not registered to an address, and the same people find it had to get an address in the first place because they have no job. A great many people have fallen into this vicious cycle, and a helping hand for those who are in this quagmire does not seem too obvious among the corporate fascias of New Birmingham.

A BEIC Topic Report on Social Exclusion and Employment found that nine inner city wards in Birmingham with the highest employment levels (three times the national average) are also ranked within the top thirty most deprived wards in England. However this could forgivably go unnoticed, as one walks through the ornamented streets of the commercial centre.

One could contemplate, if only the old, disused and forgotten buildings of times gone be renovated for the homeless and poverty stricken, rather than it waiting to be knocked down and converted by someone rich, into something cheap and profitable. If only the mechanisms of self-help were in place within these beautiful and ancient buildings, so those who need a hand on the property ladder can actually reach the ladder itself. If only it was the clear will of our local government to eradicate poverty from our own towns and streets.

Rather, people living on the street are not helped in the ways one would expect. There are too few “working not begging” schemes, like the Big Issue. Food is sourced from those willing to give the time and effort; NGO’s and loosely affiliated groupings such as “Food not Bombs”. Saint Michaels near Carrs Lane has regular food distributions, but all the help and energy that is mustered is neither collective nor long term. Nor is it proportionate to the scale of homelessness in the city centre. It seems a sad and unspoken consensus that the homelessness will always be there, and that there is always someone else to help out.

In the face of all this our council building sits pretty in the centre, over-ornamented and offending to those who have been offered little in the sense of long term, practical help.

So while apartments in the Rotunda are selling for between £150,000 and half a million, the food drops of St. Michael’s church in the Rotunda’s shadow continue. The efforts of those who are willing to try and make a change will seem to fly in the face of the mansion which is our council house.

There are groups which are willing to break in to disused and boarded up buildings, which were once used for community services and activities. One example of this is the Cottage of Content social centre. Yet such actions are small and yield no real weight in the struggle for social equality and poverty eradication.

However small in the grand scheme of things, we need more actions like this across the city. Not mindless actions, but actions with direction, with good intention and with plausible and positive benefits for both those in need and those who are not.

Perhaps every disused building in Birmingham shall one day be overrun by revolutionaries wielding crowbars for the ply-boards and screwdrivers for the screws. Maybe followed by teams of others with tools and scavenged materials, ready to make a home for whoever needs it. Perhaps a commune would form with the clout and manpower of a government organization, the skills of a diverse and collective workforce, and the intentions of those willing to go an extra mile to eradicate poverty, not eradicate the poor themselves.

It is sad that the fact is one cannot see much help from those who were elected to power. It is disconcerting that groups of people have formed to help others, and to take things into their own hands. With good intention and a positive message we should back and support those working without help from the state, towards what should be a more equal and poverty-banished city.

Jack W

Jack Writer
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Display the following 2 comments

  1. We 'crack' squats rather than 'break-in' to them — phunkee
  2. Here Here — Mohammed Safraz