Take a group of frustrated housing campaigners, an empty building, and cold weather…… and we have Iffley Open House
Just before Christmas 2016 Elise Benjamin met with a group of housing and homelessness campaigners based in Oxford. We decided that we couldn’t wait for the City Council to act so would find a building to occupy and turn into a temporary homeless shelter.
On New Years Eve the old VW garage on Iffley Road was entered (it had been left unlocked). After just over a week of work sorting out electricity, hot water, an office space, and safe spaces for people to sleep – we even had a shower installed - we went public on Monday 9th January with a petition demanding that the owners, Wadham College, allow us to stay in the building until March to provide shelter for some of the many homeless people in Oxford. By Friday 13th we were already housing 16 people, the petition had over 4,000 signatures and we’d raised several thousand pounds.
Mid Counties Co-op have the lease on the building but, no doubt due to public pressure, they issued a statement saying they want to negotiate an arrangement that will allow us to stay in the building for a bit longer. We went back to court on 20thJanuary and agreed a lease with the Co-op allowing us to stay until 10th April. Sadly, Wadham submitted a letter to the Court stating they want us out by February, but they are under pressure from students and from Green Cllr David Thomas, and they will have to negotiate with the Co-op. On 24th January Wadham were given planning permission to redevelop the site – the planning committee (Labour and LibDem Councillors only) voted unanimously in favour whilst trying hard not to look at the signs being held up by residents, volunteers, and Wadham students asking them to let us stay.
Occupying an empty building and turning it into a homeless shelter has been an incredible experience, made even more amazing by the huge public support we’ve received. We have been inundated with donations of warm clothing, beds and bedding, towels, sofas, heaters, food, fridges, and cooking equipment.
Quite a few Greens, including several councillors, have paid visits to the building, volunteered in the office, and lobbied Wadham and the Co op to let us stay. Meanwhile, our Green City Councillors continue to question the Labour leadership in the City Council about why they are refusing to spend any of their £952,000 emergency homeless fund (apparently freezing temperatures is not an emergency).
To find out more visit the Iffley Open House Facebook page.