United Kingdom: You cannot evict an idea

Born from the marriage of the worldwide financial crises and the #Occupy Movement in London, the Bank of Ideas has been exciting many people in the capital of the United Kingdom. Independent journalist Ryan Gallagher explains the project:

On the fringe of London’s wealthy financial district, a four-storey building owned by one of the world’s largest companies has found an unlikely new purpose. 5-29 Sun Street, an office block owned by Swiss financial services giant UBS, was ‘repossessed’ last month [18 November 2011] by protesters part of the anti-corporate greed Occupy movement. Offering the opportunity to “trade in creativity rather than cash,” it is now bustling with art workshops and discussion groups focusing on everything from squatters’ rights to economic trade policy.

You can't evict an idea

Photo by Ryan Gallagher


The choice of building holds no little significance for the protesters: UBS Bank was the subject of a $60bn bailout from the Swiss government in 2008, after piling up the biggest losses of any European lender from the global credit crisis. Regardless of what people think of the #Occupy Movement, @HeardinLondon says that “the idea of cleaning up an old building that has been disused for seven years and turning into a free arts space, education and community centre is hard to fault”:

What? I hear you exclaim, UBS who have been involved in massive tax evasion controversy in America? The same UBS that allowed a rogue trader to slip through the net with an estimated $2 billion? Not UBS who stung mortgage borrowers for up to 67% interest? The alleged bank of choice for Mr Bin Laden? Not the same UBS that many people say bank-rolled Saddam? Shockingly, it’s the very same UBS.

What could be a more perfect antithesis of the government’s slash and burn policies, than to rehouse the projects for the people which are being desecrated inside a bank?

The site is the third in London, set up by the economic justice campaigners who also have camps in Finsbury Square and next to St Paul’s. On YouTube, community powered news channel ynuktv posts a video about the initiative for the non-monetary trade of ideas to help solve the economic, social and environmental problems of our time:

Ideas flourishing

The place is now an open venue for free workshops and lectures held by a wide range of volunteers. Eviction proceedings have been launched against the protesters and the appeal case is expected in Court on the 23rd or the 24th January. Meanwhile, the project is entering the third month since the occupation and has free events scheduled well into December 2012, such as free university courses, permaculture workshop, an art gallery and yoga classes. Some of them are covered via live stream.

Guests and visitors have been using their blogs to report. Illustrator Isobel Williams catches a glimpse of the visitors in drawings and thoughts, whereas visual artist Raphael Franco reports on the Dr. Bike session he attended:

I met Paola and Toni, two lovely ladies who have been working with bikes and people for many years… I didn’t have much repair to do on Caca (my beloved bike), so just stayed there learning with the masters and doing some documentation of the event.

I had a great two hour session with them and learned some quite useful information about how to adjust the brakes and to work do some basic work on gears mechanic (cables, top and lower screws and balancing).

Journalist Peter Watts was surprised:

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.

Cristina reports on the meditation class she held there:

From the moment we arrived, we felt that we were in a special place, and among special people. These were courageous individuals engaged in a monumental effort; a peaceful struggle to achieve deep social and economic transformation. They wanted a fairer society, and we could see that they were striving, through inner and outer challenges, to become that new society.

£5 rent proposal

A bank statement. Credit: @heardinlondon. Used with permission

To carry on providing room for community groups and other public services that have lost their space due to Government spending cuts, the team at Bank of Ideas has offered to pay £5 rent to UBS, for continued use of its building. It is the full amount that the giant investment bank has claimed as the rateable value of this prime site commercial property in the heart of London, according to a recent re-rating application to the tax office. It has fallen from around £100,000 to just £1 per floor – or a total of £5 in all:

Occupy London would like to take this opportunity to make an open, warm hearted offer to UBS – we want you to help us to begin to build the Big Society.

Bank of Ideas has renovated this derelict building, without state intervention and through volunteering and skill sharing. Since it was publicly repossessed, Bank of Ideas, located in one of the boroughs worst hit by the summer’s social unrest, has been used as a community centre where many local organisations affected by the cuts have a place in which to continue their vital work.

UBS has been accused of many unsavory practices in its time. Now, Occupy London and Bank of Ideas are publicly asking them to work with us to wipe the slate clean – to enable community organisers to permanently manage this site on behalf of the people of Hackney – the border of which is but one pavement’s distance from some of the wealthiest companies on earth.

Whether or not UBS decides to reply positively, remains to be seen; meanwhile, Peter Watts advises people to pay a visit as soon as possible, just in case:

I recommend you pay a visit quickly, before the dead hand of corporatism crushes another lowly outlet of fun and dissent.

Art in UBS Building ''Bank of Ideas''
By Blickr user by Elco_, published under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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