Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Stealing Back the Parkway

The People of Camden were grossly disappointed on the day the Parkway Cinema was forced to close. When new life arrived, courtesy of UN Sound System and their bags of initiative, councillors and local people found themselves supporting their local squatters. Andy Johnson reports.

Squall 11, Autumn 1995, pp. 78-79

A squatted cinema in North London has become the focus of a local campaign to re-open the building and has even gained the support of local councillors.

UN Sounds entered the Parkway cinema in the centre of Camden Town for the second time in late August. They spent four weeks in the cinema in May before being evicted.

After putting on a number of highly successful parties they soon attracted the attention of the local press and campaigners who have been trying to persuade the owners, property developers Sunley Turrif, to reopen the much loved art deco gem as a cinema.

The cinema was closed three years ago when Turrif, a subsidiary of Lohnro, sacked the tenant- manager and applied for planning permission to turn the site into an office block.

Permission was refused by Camden Council and, on appeal, the planning inspector upheld the decision on the grounds that the building was a public asset and should remain a cinema. This effectively blocked any hope of redeveloping the site.

Despite strong local campaigns, including the formation of the "Friends of Parkway", to reopen the cinema, the Parkway has remained closed. It is thought that the building is being allowed to deteriorate in the hope that eventually Sunley will be allowed to demolish it - a common developer's wheeze.

Exasperated by the owners stalling over the sale of the building to another operator, the council are currently considering a compulsory purchase order.

Before UN Sounds, a local Camden sound system, first squatted the building in May, Sunley said that the inside of the building had fallen into thousands of pounds worth of disrepair. This was exposed as inaccurate when a local newspaper, the Ham and High, carried a front page photo of UN Sounds sitting in a pristine cinema. All that was missing were two chandeliers from the main auditorium and about 100 seats from a smaller auditorium.

Initially evicted after four weeks, UN returned at the end of August to find their own locks still on the doors and the heating, lighting and electricity left switched on. A leak in the roof that was dripping water onto the main stage remained, despite UN Sounds writing to Sunley in May to inform them that part of the roof needed repairing. UN also say that when they moved in pigeons had colonised the projection room, leaving destructive droppings everywhere, although they hadn't spread to the main theatre. They also say that they cleared out used needles from corridors and window recesses and, because of their local credibility, crack dealers who haunted the surrounding alleyways vanished.

They then put on a couple of parties, attracting over 1,500 people without trouble which pleased local food vendors and taxi firms on the High Street. One nearby supermarket was even considering hiring extra staff to cope with the Sunday morning deluge of breakfast and lunch-seeking party people. They were disappointed to discover that the next weekend had a more sedate programme; an all-night film show. UN also put on free kid's Saturday matinees, the programme for which was agreed after consulting local community centres. "This place should be the heart of the community," is how one of the "Occupiers and persons unknown" put it, "but it's like a wheel clamp on the area."

The parties initially attracted criticism, being described in the local press as "raves" and arousing all the stereotyped fears associated with such demonic practices.

One local councillor, Anne Swain, said: "We have enough undesirables in the area without attracting any more."

Anne Swain, a member of the Friends of Parkway, was invited, along with a number of other councillors, to meet UN Sounds in the cinema. After chatting to them she adjusted her opinion from negative to actively positive. She was among a number of councillors who allowed themselves to be photographed with UN for a local paper which ran the headline: "Carry on Squatting! Cllrs. Welcome Parkway Squat."

After the photo call, which saw councillors posing with brooms and vacuum cleaners, the discussion even saw one of the councillors, a barrister, advising UN on tactics for their impending eviction hearing in the High Court.

At their first hearing, on Thursday September 7, UN Sounds won a week's adjournment by successfully arguing the building was a residential property, because it has a flat formerly used by the manager.

Sunley had allowed only two working days between serving papers and the court hearing because they had the building down as commercial. Having a residential element meant they should have allowed five days.

"We want it to be a public forum," said Lee, one of the squatters. "We do music but we don't want it to be limited to music. It could be used for film or media training and as a community centre. There could be workshops, a creche for kids and space for groups like Amnesty. But these things aren't exclusive, it is a cinema after all."

...the building is being allowed to deteriorate in the hope that eventually Sunley will be allowed to demolish it - a common developer's wheeze.

The parties UN put on are, not to put too fine a word on it, cracking. The main space in the auditorium is utilised for tuneful rave-type music, with hypnotic visuals projected onto the main screen. The stage is used as a dancing sweat shop but there are an abundance of comfy seats for chilling out and gazing at the visuals. The enormous space in the theatre, including an incredibly high roof, aids and abets an open air feeling and avoids claustrophobia.

The small auditorium, probably originally used for specialist films, hosts a couple of live bands, and an all night film show of, well, specialist films, such as the CJB demo at Hyde Park and nomadic travels through Afghanistan. As well as a nod towards popular culture with The Whicker Man.

Gerry Harrison, a local councillor and erstwhile member of the Friends of Parkway, said: "I support the squatters because they have given use to a building that would otherwise be empty, sad, forlorn and more run down than it is already. So long as the place is looked after I support what they are doing. Squatters have got themselves a bad reputation which they don't deserve. This group are keeping the building ticking over."

Ernest James, who heads the licensing committee at Camden, did point out that UN Sounds don't have a music and dance licence. But he did say: "There seems to be sufficient room here to use it as a 1,000 seat cinema and put in other facilities such as a film school and skills training in the media and the arts. That is to be welcomed in this significant part of the borough, and a use that young people could benefit from." (There is currently an enormous debate in Camden about the lack of youth facilities).

"From what I see," Cllr James continued, "this group are ensuring that the building is protected. I have seen the damage caused by pigeons that they have prevented from reaching the auditorium. The present occupiers are providing a service to the community that is not being identified by the owners who are allowing it to fall to rack and ruin by not looking after it."

UN won a further adjournment the following week because Sunley had not registered the lease. According to the Registration of Land Act 1925 a lease, when sold on, if it has more than forty years to run, should be registered within two months. The original Parkway lease was for 125 years and issued in 1964. Sunley brought it in 1989, with 99 years to go, but neglected to register it. So the Land Register, nor the lease, would provide proof of ownership.

Much to the consternation of Sunley Turrif, the judge, Master Trench, adjourned the case for a further week so that Sunley could find some written evidence that they actually owned the property.

The following week, in what was turning into a court room farce, Sunley verses the Occupier and Persons Unknown, returned to the High Court presided over by a different judge - one Master Tenant. Although Sunley had brought along their receipt of sale, they had not altered their affidavit. This sworn statement, setting out their argument, still said that the Land Register would be used as evidence of ownership. But their verbal argument centred around the receipt of sale.

"You're your own worst enemy," Master Tenant told them, adjourning the case for a further week. "You will be able to serve another affidavit setting out the case you actually want to argue before then," he continued. "The other party have been to the trouble to examine the Land Register and found there is nothing in it. That is up to you to deal with. I need the evidence."

The court then had the bizarre scene of a representative from the Advisory Service for Squatters advising Sunley's counsel on how to word a summons.

The squatters still disputed their original summons to court, as it had not been altered to state the building had residential accommodation. As they had already received the statutory amount of time between the serving of the summons and the court hearing, Master Tenant dismissed the argument saying that the summons could be amended there and then.

He gave it to Sunley's solicitor to alter, but he didn't know how to word it without accepting that the cinema had a residential component.

"It MAY have a dwelling house," whispered the ASS rep, "It MAY have residential accommodation."

The summons so amended, Master Tenant asked if it was acceptable. UN Sounds chorused "yes". A smile broke through the severe gravitas on the face of Master Tenant.

"It's his summons," he said, "It's up to him to say if it's alright or not." The court room then erupted into laughter.

As UN Sounds jubilantly left the court to organise another film show, one said to a member of Sunley's firm of solicitors: "If you need any help next week you know where to find us!"

Unfortunately, the following week, September 29, Sunley didn't need any help. They had their house, or rather their papers, in order and were granted a possession order.

But UN Sounds are not the sort to accept defeat. They immediately lodged an appeal, on the grounds of the disputed original court summons, which was pencilled in for hearing on October 31. They then returned to court the following week to argue that they should be allowed to stay until their appeal hearing. Master Tenant was having none of this, so as Squall hits the printers, UN Sounds have been legally evicted from the Parkway cinema.

This, however, is not the end of the story. The Plaza cinema sits right next door to the Parkway, is owned by Sunley Turrif, has been closed for over a year, and is the focus of a local campaign to be continued.


Every weekend and occasionally weekday someone somewhere for no immediate financial gain puts on a free party.

Many of you reading this now will be attending such an event and, in case you had failed to notice, it takes time and effort to sort out. First you have to find a venue, somewhere away from residential areas, easy to get to and relatively safe. With luck it will have working toilets and clean water supply. Having found the venue it may be necessary to occupy it several days in advance.

Next the electric has to be sorted out or, failing that, a generator needs to be borrowed and a space for the party cleared. People with lights, backdrops and sound equipment at great personal risk supply their services for free (or the occasional drink) so that you, the party goer, can dance and socialise with like minded people away from the social control and corruption of licensed venues/clubs/discos etc.

On top of all this, more often than not, someone from the sound system will have to negotiate with the old bill, risking arrest and/or a large fine. You may ask yourself why they bother at all, and at the moment people who have carried the can and taken the shit for so long are probably asking that themselves.

You have two choices. You can either:

Let the underground party scene lose momentum from lack of funds and energy, and have to resort back to paying £10 a ticket to be intimidated by XR2i boys and moody bouncers (who kick you out at 6am if you're lucky).

Or you can support your local underground sound system.

If by chance you find the second choice more appealing then here is how to do it. When asked at the door for a donation by someone who looks as if he or she is a part of the sound system, give as much as you feel you can afford (a chewed biro lid and 2p won't go very far, mind). If for any reason you don't feel happy with the vibe of the people taking the money and you manage to blag in for nought, go and ask someone from the rig and find out whether or not they are blaggers (the world's full of them). Having done that you will then be able to give your donation safe in the knowledge that it will go to the right people.

If you are still unsure about where the money ends up then find someone who is obviously part of the party crew (DJs etc) and sort them out a drink personally.

The sound systems have been doing it for free for a long time. Free party's mean that DJs and live acts can get the exposure they need. It also means that we can meet up away from the pressures of our society's self appointed overseers.

This is your future and unless something positive is done we will simply grow too tired….

(F.O.I.L - Freedom of Information Limited)



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