The blogosphere in West Cork in the aftermath of the Holiday Period has been electrified by a number of news items relating to the occupation of empty buildings in Ireland.
A new kind of occupation
In particular in the Cork region, the quiet takeover of a substantial Cork office block by group describing themselves as the Cork City Centre Community Resource Centre has captured, albeit momentarily, the interest of the blogging fraternity.
The group seems to be an offshoot of the Occupy Cork group, but their methods and objectives appear somewhat different…
They are not calling for the withdrawal of the IMF and the EU and the burning of the bondholders… they are not calling for the reversal of all the cuts… instead they are saying that they intend to stay in occupation of the building, and that it will be put to the following uses:
- A pop-up charity Café inspired by local restaurateur Seamus O’Connell, voluntarily run by the young and old, bridging the generation gap.
- An alternative music school and recording space.
- A health, healing and nutrition space run voluntarily by experts in their fields.
- A library and bookshop
- Free public internet access
- Open spaces for training and educational purposes and skill sharing
- Home of the ‘Let’s Get Together’ foundation, offering free counselling and suicide prevention services.
- Community Creche
Most importantly, they state the building will be used as a true civic space, run by the people, for the people with the resources that belong to the people.
Although previously held by NAMA, this building now is returned to the public.
Many of us are familiar with the collapse of the Celtic Tiger property bubble that left thousands of buildings and homes empty.
I have been involved in promoting the CUBE Campaign (Campaign for use of Buildings that are Empty) on Facebook and elsewhere.
We have written to politicians and the Housing Minister arguing that empty buildings are a vital resource that could and should be used to house single people and families in housing need and to give a location to worthwhile community and environmental projects.
But our arguments have fallen on (apparently) deaf ears.
There has been no move (to our knowledge) to encourage NAMA or owners to make empty buildings available, or to create a framework where this is mutualy rewarding for owners and communities.
Is seems to me the sheerest folly that abstract financial arguments can barricade the way to common sense.
The Cork City Centre building is an asset that appears to have no real “market” value, as no one is buying luxury office accommodation. It does have (and thanks to the occupation could have) a vital value to the local community as a social and civic resource.
Economists who see everything in terms of its investment and financial value appear blinded by the dogma and cannot see what is obvious to others.
There are at least 100,000 empty houses that could house local authority housing lists and eliminate the need for billionaire subsidies paid to private landlords for often temporary or badly maintained accommodation.
Buildings like the one in Cork could be leased at affordable rents to community organisations or co-ops, where social entrepreneurs set up social, environmental or clean technology initiatives, childcare facilities, organic food restaurants, and craft and art co-operatives. This would allow young people the privilege of creativity and innovation which is currently reserved for the rich and highly educated…
Have a look at the Exchange in Temple Bar, where the owner leased it to an enterprise co-op for a small rent… have a look at the innumerable social economy centres in Brussels, Stockholm, London, Vaasa, etc. etc.
In 2008 the Social Economy was shown by EU statistics to be the largest creator of new jobs… manly in cultural industries.
Financial dogma is in danger of curtailing the possibility of hope and self-help for a whole generation of young social entrepreneurs, as it is preventing thousands of families and single people of the change to start a new life in good quality homes that in any case are being paid by the many welfare cuts and by our taxes.
We need a National Empty Buildings Plan, to make the properties, houses and buildings, available to community based groups and co-ops that are able to offer a sustainable use, a credible organisation and some sort of business plan.
We need to provide them with the training, tools and support to repair, to manage and to maintain these buildings and to make their initiatives a reality..!
We have the perfect opportunity, in the imaginative use these buildings to begin to redress the damage that the financial mistakes and swinging cuts have wreaked on our society, and mainly on the vulnerable…
These buildings empty and deteriorating day by day are a small price to pay..!