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A social centre in Birmingham? Meeting Wednesday 16th January

socialite | 03.01.2008 20:40 | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Birmingham

Birmingham City Council's forthcoming selling off of buildings presents an opportunity for disability and other social groups. Call out for people interested in a short or long term autonomous social centre in Birmingham...

On Wednesday 19th December 2007 representatives of various radical groups in Birmingham (including Birmingham Food Not Bombs, Housing4All, DAN Disabled People's Direct Action Network and Enhedduana Housing Co-op) held a meeting at the MAC to discuss future possibilities for an autonomous social centre in Birmingham. This meeting represented a major coming together of hitherto unconnected campaign groups and social movements.

People's visions of what an autonomous social centre could be like were discussed, as well as the various possibilities involving squatting, renting or buying a building. While there was definite interest in a short term squatted/occupied social space happening in Spring 2008, the main focus of the meeting was on possibilities for a stable, long-term social centre, roughly along the lines of the Sumac Centre in Nottingham or the Common Place in Leeds (run as a members' club and co-operative). Particularly relevant to this aim is Birmingham City Council's already-in-progress plans to close down its Day Centres (for elderly people, physically disabled people and people with learning difficulties and/or mental health problems) and sell off the buildings (see PDF report on BCC's website at

The closure of these day centres, run according to a medical model of disability which serves to exclude and segregate disabled people, brings about the opportunity to replace them with something based on a social model in which all people involved are equals and a genuinely inclusive, non-commercial social space can be created which is organised by rather than "for" disabled and otherwise excluded people - a venue for everything from music, film and theatre to cookery workshops and language lessons, to crisis advocacy and office space for campaigning organisations, to organising for direct action.

Ethical and political principles for a social centre in order for it to be considered "radical" and "autonomous" were discussed - it was agreed that a minimum set of principles would include active opposition to racism, sexism, disablism and all other forms of discrimination, commitment to the social model of disability (see, a vegan kitchen (or section of the kitchen) to accommodate all dietary needs and principles, opposition to commercial profit-making and to hierarchical organisations such as political parties. A social centre would be a place of acceptance of difference, where people would be free to socialise and to be ourselves without exclusion, exploitation or discrimination, and to be empowered to create rather than consume social time and social space.

It was agreed that a functional social centre in Birmingham would need to be in a building that was fully physically accessible and either in/near or with easy public transport links to the city centre. As there are over 30 BCC owned day centre buildings which are going to be closed down and sold off, these buildings need to be investigated for suitability - however, all agreed that the forthcoming availability of these buildings is an opportunity that needs to be seized as soon as possible. The pros and cons of various approaches to obtaining a building were discussed, but no firm conclusion was reached.

Fundraising was discussed, with suggestions including benefit gigs or other events, street stalls, loans from specialist banks or from organisations such as Radical Routes, and seeking funding from charitable sources.

Between those present at the meeting, there were about 15 groups which people were either members of or knew of which would definitely be interested in being part of an autonomous social centre in Birmingham. The email account has been created as a contact email for anyone interested in being involved; there will also be a mailing list created, probably to be called

There will be another meeting on Wednesday 16th January 2008 in the downstairs bar at the MAC (Midlands Arts Centre, Cannon Hill Park), starting at 7.30pm, to which everyone who would be interested in being involved in an autonomous social centre in Birmingham is invited, to discuss more concrete plans for both short term and long term free spaces. Please bring all ideas and suggestions you may have, especially for publicity and/or fundraising. The MAC is wheelchair accessible and is on the 1, 45 and 47 bus routes, see for how to get there.

Another Birmingham is possible - together we can create it!

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