Wearing red lipstick, a lot of glitter and comfy warm clothes we left the house shortly after a midnight toast for New Year’s Eve and walked down to the empty Iffley road garage. The door was open and we walked in and bolted the door behind us… It is now March.
That night, lying in my sleeping bag in a cold garage, I thought about how bonkers this might seem to most people I know. I wondered what my mum might think and what my community might say. It was freezing that night and it reminded me why we were doing this.
Homelessness has quadrupled in Oxford over the past 5 years. There are 102 people sleeping outside in our city and funding keeps getting cut and shelters are being closed. We are at a crisis point and we had to do something. I was brought up to enact change when I saw injustice and to challenge the systems of oppression that I saw. I am very lucky to have been taught this and I recognise that with that learning comes a responsibility to use the skills, rage and courage that I have. People are dying on our streets and so we had to do something.
Heading into our third month and we have 20 people sleeping in the space who would otherwise be on the streets. During our time together it has snowed, stormed and rained and the temperature has dropped below zero several times.
We have now been in court three times. First the Coop – who had the lease on the Iffley road site – agreed to an adjournment to negotiate a potential lease for the court date by a week. They then decided to do the right thing and ask for us to stay in the building until April 10th.
This may have changed things for Wadham somewhat as they then took us to court and asked for us to leave by 27th February. They have also however kept to their promise and advocated for us publically.
In January after the court case we were looking at huge volunteer rotas for the next four months, coordinating donations of food, time, lamps, bedding, clothes, flip chart, language lessons, filmmakers… All the while still working our normal full time jobs and maintaining relationships, friendships and homes. Needless to say, we are all tired. I am also so over joyed. The amount of support we are getting is glorious and reminds me that we are living amongst wonderful people. Sometimes we just need to know how to offer ourselves. Sometimes a small group of people just need to make a crack in the fabric of normality for the light to shine through. For our real intentions to get through. An interruption in our everyday routines that allows us to sit down and have breakfast with a stranger who can become an unlikely friend in an unlikely place in a garage that has become a temporary home for an unlikely community of people.
My mum has been delivering heaters and pallets, my community have been rallying all sorts of support – from cooking me lunch to doing my laundry – and I have messages of support from new and old friends and friends I have yet to meet.
We moved to our new home on the 26th February in a “military style operation” with a convoy of locals, volunteers and local press taking the building on a Sunday at 4pm in about 10 minutes. The new space is the Old Mill/Power Station on Osney near the train station. We have been there a week and we may have one more week.
At this point anything could happen based on the decisions of a few. Please wish us luck from afar and come and help if you can.
Over the past months we have used the space to discover next paths in life and have found permanent housing situations for some people. What I have gained from this so far is far beyond anything I could have imagined. I have new friends, new skills and new hope. To all who have been involved so far, and to all who have donated, time and money and things and to those who will, to everyone who has sent messages of thanks, encouragement and ideas – THANK YOU! You are all the change I want to see in the world. Together we can choose to live the future we want to see.
With hope and love in these challenging times x
A few other press mentions –