Inside the Bank of Ideas

Last week, I paid a visit to the Bank of Ideas, the squat/community centre that has been set up inside an empty office building near Liverpool Street.

I didn’t know quite what to find inside, and while I expected a friendly welcome I was surprised by the  depth of organisation that has gone into the enterprise, owing as much to the methods of middle management as it does the spirit of the co-operative. This is organised occupation on an impressive scale. There were flowcharts, spreadsheets and white boards full of information and advice on every surface, with people running round spreading messages and sharing news. I’ve worked in dozens of newspaper offices where communication was worse than this. It’s energetic, unifying and genuinely impressive on every level.

All members of the media are asked to visit a room next to the entrance hall to sign in and get tapped up for donations (the Bank is run a voluntary basis, with donations and skill-sharing). It was here I spoke to one of the ‘caretakers’, Bryn Phillips, an earnest youngish man in music PR who informed me that they had decided to squat the building when they ‘discovered it was owned by UBS. After researching UBS they seemed the perfect target for a Situationist critique of the finance industry’. As a fan of Situationist critiques, I thoroughly approved.

The Bank, of course, taps into a long tradition of London communes and squats that seek to serve a greater purpose than merely place a roof over peoples heads – the best example is the squatting of Centre Point in the 1970s to raise awareness of homelessness – while its educational aspects, the Free University and regular workshops, recall the London Anti-University and Notting Hill’s London Free School of the 1960s, though I’d hazard a guess that neither was as carefully organised as this.

How long the Bank of Ideas will be allowed to remain open remains to be seen, but it should be around in the early part of next week at least. If so, I recommend you pay a visit quickly, before the dead hand of corporatism crushes another lowly outlet of fun and dissent.

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