Welcome to the Mill Road Social Centre. The centre was occupied by local residents on Tuesday 20 May 2008, and in a matter of days the site of the former Wilco store was transformed from a dark and dank building to a bright and cheerful space.
What is the Mill Road Social Centre?
It’s a space for members of the community to get together and do whatever’s possible in it, as long as that doesn’t interfere with other people’s use of the space, or our neighbours. This a space to put on events, to create art, to drink tea, watch films, listen to music, share skills, let your kids and parents play or sit down without buying anything.
It’s a place to drop in, to see what’s going on, to experiment, to meet people, to express your talents. A space get involved, to contribute to and take part in whatever you’d like to. We’ve been making it up as we go along, with skills, experience, and ideas welcomed from everyone. We have one more week of guaranteed operation (see the legal status section), so please make use of it if you’re interested in what’s going on!
Why is it happening?
Because we think it’s a beautiful thing for local people to have space that is easily accessible, where we have a direct say in what happens, as equals, where we have a sense of ownership, where it’s not just a rented private area, but a sociable community space where we feel moved to contribute to it and improve it.
Because people agree with what’s happening and are getting involved. We’ve already had hundreds of people come in and take part in one way or another, and we’ve had great events simply as a result of there being a place where it was easy for people to make them happen. People are naturally creative and sociable, and yet there are few free places in Cambridge that encourage people to come together to do stuff and meet up without spending lots of money.
We think that if decisions about what local buildings were be used for were made by local communities rather than money, we would see more spaces run for these kind of reasons, and fewer profit-driven, soulless chain-stores.
The building has been legally occupied, and a number of people are resident here. By claiming legal residence in the building, they have been able to keep the space open for all to use. The social centre is in effect a private residence, to which the public is invited. Using this building is legal, as long as you are invited inside by the current legal residents – so far, everyone is!
The lease on the building has been owned for a year by Tesco, who have failed to get planning permission that would allow them to open a full store, after their application was refused in February by the local council following widespread local opposition and a concerted campaign against them.
The legal status of the current residents’ right to use the building is a civil matter between us and Tesco. Tesco have applied for a court hearing for a possession order for the building, although they have suggested that they may not evict the social centre until they can begin building work. The hearing is at 10am on Thursday 12th June, at the County Court on East Road. Please come along and support us!
It is legal for anyone to occupy a disused building and claim residence there, under section 6 of the housing act. For more info see www.squatter.org or get in touch with us for more details.
How is the space being run?
In a rather ad-hoc yet democratic manner – we’ve only been running for two weeks, everyone is a volunteer, and if you want something doing, a good way can be to start organising it yourself and ask others if they would like to get involved. If you’re not sure if something is ok with others, you’re welcome to ask. We have open general meetings on Mondays at 7pm to discuss the running of the social centre. Everyone is welcome to attend and contribute their ideas. Decisions are made by a loose form of consensus – if a number of people are unhappy with something, it doesn’t happen. This Monday’s is going to be quite important given the court date on Thursday. Other ad-hoc meetings, e.g. to make leaflets etc. happen as and when people have time and energy for them.
We do not allow people to impose a charge for events, although donations are welcome to cover the costs of the social centre and event organisers. Everyone is welcome to attend any event, regardless of their finances.
Bookings for use of the space can be made by talking to one of the residents, or through the contact page.
We do not have a license to sell alcohol, and people are welcome to bring their own beer and wine etc. into the building. We ask that people smoke outside the building during the daytime and public events. We ask people to refrain from using illegal drugs while in and around this space.
There are many other examples of occupied buildings that would otherwise be empty around the UK, Europe and the world, some of which are used as social centres. There is a strong tradition of occupied social centres in London, Germany, Holland and Italy, amongst other places.
Cambridge also has a history of occupied spaces, one chapter of which resulted in the creation of the Junction as a music venue at a time when Cambridge was even more lacking in them!
Interested in what’s going on, now and in the future? Please get in touch!
We’d love to see more spaces like this in Cambridge, and would love your support in making them happen!
Big up from all involved x x