The story of Islington Park Street Community
‘This Fear’ by Karen Grace. Thanks to Mark Raudva for additional banjo.
Have you ever fought really hard not to lose something … And then lost it anyway?
And then you’re left to make some kind of sense of what happened?
That’s me tonight, as I find myself sitting in my little rocking boat, my new home on the Thames. I recently moved here having lost my previous home. A beautiful, rare community of 18 people, that had existed since the ’70’s, and was the last of its kind. Residents aged 19 – 80, with some children too along the way; a motley crew of characters from many different backgrounds we were a family of sorts, complete with all the comforts, irritations, joys, and dysfunctions of any other family.
We faced an eviction from our money hungry landlords and lost after 3 years of fighting tooth and nail to keep what we had.
People who had never been to our home often ask ‘oh was it a squat?’ – no, we were paying tenants, doing the usual tenant thing, albeit in an unusual way. Our campaign touched the hearts of millions of people all around the world, as we were lucky enough to get coverage from The Observer, CNN, the BBC … We had overwhelming public support, and even had the UK’s top barrister interested in representing us at one point …
It’s hard to put into words the magic of Islington Park Street Community, but everyone who walked through its doors to the kitchen table kind of instantly got it. You know… felt it.
To me that table, where a load of us would inevitably eat together each night, represented so much. It was the hub of the community. It feels weird that I wrote a post about a table, but that’s what I did one night, during our campaign, and it seemed to strike a chord with so many people who had experienced the magic… So here’s that post again:
‘This table has been part of our community from the very beginning. Longer even, than Graham, our longest standing resident who has been here for 38 years, no less. It has seen a thing or two over those 40 years.
It has seen every culinary effort under the sun, from beans on toast to stunning offerings from all corners of the world. It has seen belly’s ache with laughter and nerves frayed from long house meetings. Several times a week it sees the community eating together and sees us gradually putting on the pounds, as good food seems to be relentless at this table. It has seen 1083 games of backgammon, 91% of which have been won by Rupert.
50,5863 newspaper articles have been read around this table over 60,6901 cups of morning coffee. It has probably seen the odd food fight and admittedly withstood 68 feet dancing on it’s surface at parties down the years. Dentures have jumped out of newspapers on this table and mice have come for crumbs dropped from this table late at night when 18 residents have been asleep in their beds. Guitars, violins, melodicas, spoons and cups, have all been played round this table, late into the night, as the wine has kept on flowing.
This table is the hub of our community. It has recently seen us through 11 months of fighting to preserve the precious thing we have here – food fights, denture acrobatics, jam sessions and all. Nerves have been more frayed than usual over these months, and this table has seen a record number of house meetings, proposals, debates, votes, arguments, highs, lows, even lower lows, tears…. and highs again. This beloved table has seen this community through 40 years and will see us through another 40 …’
We fought so hard and had so many victories along the way. We did so fucking well. But we lost our home, in the end. And the precious thing that was Islington Park Street Community. To the money hungry landlords who will soon be making a lot of money out of the luxury flats they will no doubt build in the place of our home…
On the day I left Islington Park Street Community, I stood on the roof and, feeling totally skinless and exhausted, and putting the landlord out of my mind, said ‘thank you’ for having had seven precious years of such a beautiful and unusual way of life. Just before I climbed down from the roof and picked up my bags, I took one photo… It was a beautiful morning…
I remembered the words of the song I had written about my fears of this happening:
‘This Fear I cannot speak,
We’re strong but just as weak…
Up on the roof, you see all is on the move
The city sings a different song each day.
A celebrating crowd, the lonely and the proud.
Do they know this too will pass away?’
A few days later, the treasured table ended up going to a wonderful family who I used to live with, along with 40 years of history and no doubt DNA from the thousands of people who had experienced it’s magic. It went to a very open home, where it’s community spirit lives on… a silver lining to this cloudy tale, and a great place for re-unions…
So … now I sit on my boat, to the soundtrack of the Thames lapping outside my window. I love living on the water, I couldn’t have asked for a luckier twist of fate when my friend called me about the boat that is now my home …
But I can’t really make sense of the destruction of the community where I lived … which feels like an attack on my tribe somehow. Lovers of community. Lovers of creativity. Islington Park Street was also a place which included people with vulnerabilities and frailties, the oldest member having died recently aged 80. This eviction feels like a wound to so many things I believe in.
I feel sad about what London is becoming.
….. And grateful for the magic of the water.
Love Karen x