Around 50 demonstrators gathered outside Oxford Crown Court this morning to protest an eviction order against a group of squatters currently using a building owned by Wadham College.
Students, along with local residents and members of the group Iffley Open House, showed their support for an appeal from the group to use the currently empty building as a temporary homeless shelter.
It follows a possession order filed by the current leaseholders of the ground floor of the building – The Midcounties Cooperative – to have the squatters evicted.
The case was adjourned for seven days, after a request to the judge by the Midcounties Cooperative. A spokesperson for the group told Cherwell that they were attempting to find “an amicable solution” to the situation.
It is understood that a meeting was later held between senior officials at Wadham and representatives of the Midcounties Coop, as the various parties seek “a consensus” on the issue.
Yesterday, Wadham said that it had met with members of Iffley Open House as it seeks to “establish a constructive dialogue with all of the interested parties”.
Demonstrators at the protest held a banner reading “People need homes, empty spaces need people” and cheered when the suspension of the case was announced.
A member of Iffley Open House, Miranda Shaw, said: “This project has already made a huge difference to the people who have been living in the building. With this adjournment, it can now continue to provide a safe and secure space that is vital for people’s physical and mental health.
“With extreme cold weather and snow expected this weekend, it is one more week of warmth, one more week of rest, one more week in which fewer people will be risking exposure and injury in sub-zero temperatures. And, hopefully, one more week in which the Midcounties Cooperative can begin to see the good this space is doing.”
The group hope that if the eviction order is successful, Wadham will allow them to move into the upstairs of the property, which apparently contains 11 flats.
Both Wadham and the Midcounties Coop have warned of a “significant quantity of asbestos” contained throughout the building, along with potential fire hazards.
Samuel Dunnett, who is a member of the Wadham SU committee and attended the protest, said: “I think I speak for the majority of Wadham students when I express deep concern for the fate of Iffley Open House. We’re hoping, and will be campaigning this week, for the college to do all they can to encourage the Co-Op to keep the space open and inhabited in these winter months, and to explore all options to them for the parts of the building they own. If the question is one of safety, opening up other parts of the building is safe in comparison with throwing people back into the cold.”
Jeevan Ravindran, Chair of the OUSU ‘On Your Doorstep’ homelessness campaign told Cherwell: “I think protesters are turning up because they’re tired of seeing indifference towards homelessness. Having a home should be a basic human right, especially in this country, and all we’re seeing is budget cuts and hostel closures. More people are sleeping rough and the situation is unacceptable.
“As the university has the means to help, it should, and we urge Wadham to do the right thing and choose to save and change lives. People should not be dying on our streets whilst buildings lie empty.”
In a motion to Wadham’s Student Union, the President, Lucas Bertholdi-Saad, proposed that the SU pay the legal fees for Iffley Open House, and pressure the college to allow the squatters to remain in the building until it requires the site for building work. The motion will be discussed at this Sunday’s SU meeting.