An evolution of squatting in East London

An architect, a former businessman, and a nomadic walk into an empty building…. And show us how community living can work in 2017;

Two and a half years of innovative freedom in the shape of an East London warehouse is coming to an end on November 19th. The Hive in Dalston, that’s been a home to numerous people, as well as a fertile soil to locals’ passions and ideas, is closing its doors, potentially, to allow new ones to open up.

On November 16th, the people of The Hive will be sharing the experience and wisdom they’ve gained, in a conference they are hosting, which is expected to be attended by some of the most influential figures in the city. Hand by hand with their hosting landlord, they are willing to create a lobby that will challenge our perception of social living in the city.

In 2016\17 alone, almost 20,000 homes across London stood empty and unloved, due to a study conducted by Composite Door Experts. The combined value of these properties, as to the study, is estimated by £11.7 billion (!). In the exact same year, more than 8,000 people ‘slept rough’ on London’s streets, showing a worrying increase of 170% (!) in the last ten years, due to Streets of London’s website.

The Hive is the creation as well as the showcase of the non-profit organization, ReSpace Projects. It is a temporary independent social space, based in an empty building, aimed at being an environmentally-conscious communal centre where individuals can present their music, build exhibitions, run workshops, and collaborate with one another. No money involved, no boundaries. Built upon a model they’d describe as “Holistic Urban Regeneration”, The Hive exemplify the numerous opportunities that are available to us within empty buildings and wasted resources.


“The problem here is not about space, there is enough space; but not enough desire.”

For Gee Sinha, one of the Founders of ReSpace and The Hive, these numbers show the urgency and essentiality of their model to become the norm, which can potentially draw a substantial change in our society. He states: “The Hive is an evolution of a concept that has been around for a long time. It’s like a proof, that in this current society and this current environment, communities and people actually have a lot more ability to solve their own problems”.

Gee’s journey with ReSpace Projects followed a row of personal and transforming events in his life. It was only about 6 years ago, that his reality shifted entirely; turning from working-life in a big advertising company, and being an owner of a car and a house in London- to living in a squat.

As the law against squatting has been renewed in September 2012, making it a criminal offence, Gee was determined to not let what saved his life to die. However, he stresses that it’s not the squatting he credits and wants to revive, but the community he explored at this time of distress; a new way of living, that perhaps changed his life perception forever.

The Hive is located in a 3 story warehouse, steps away from Haggerston station in Hackney. The building has been empty for 8 years now, in a wait for planning permissions to go forward, before turning into a residential block. For Michael Gerard, the owner of the building, a project like The Hive is a natural and important way to combine forces of developers and locals together to produce social good. “Different to what many people seem to think, developers aren’t necessarily ‘hungry capitalists’”, he states.

Michael is a Co-Founder of Investland, a development company with a rather different approach to the importance of the incorporation between the private and the communal. To his belief, quality of life is largely measured by a balance between the two. Michael appreciates the quality residential environment that naturally connects to the creative character of each place, and to the people who make it. Michael and The Hive had a contract for six months, which eventually expanded for two and a half years; no budget involved, no revenues, just pure trust.

A Place Where Communities Can Come Together

The Hive Dalston. Photo credit: The Hive

The walls outside The Hive are colourfully painted, standing out but merging naturally with the East London landscape. Big white letters in the entrance’s wall thanking Investland for their trust. As Gee explains: “The difference between ReSpace and squatting, I think, is about trust. Everything that ReSpace does is based on people trusting us. Trusting us with their buildings, their materials, their lives, trusting us with their ambitions and their creative projects”.

Throughout its existence, The Hive has hosted thousands of events, gave a stage to numerous local artists and creative people, and has been a home for about 150 people that had nowhere else to go. Exhibitions and workshops took place regularly at the venue, based on participants’ contributions.

As you walk into The Hive, a smell of burnt incense is likely to pleasantly welcome you. Old colourful leather sofas, which were all collected from the street, may give you an actual feeling of a living room. In this concrete bubble, at the heart of East London, I’ve met a young passionate architect, a Gnawa musician, a full-time nomadic, a former advertiser, and many others, sitting all together, sharing the same roof.

Tom, the nomadic pal within the group, has passionately talked about the separation in which the “system” of the city creates between us. For him, and perhaps for everyone who’s involved in this emerging lobby, projects like The Hive are an opportunity to take the power back to our own hands, and to use it together.



Words: Adi Cohen | Subbing: Pamela Machado


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