Students fight legal action to remove squatters from Wadham building

Leaseholders of the ground floor of the building serve Iffley Open House with an eviction order, whilst Wadham raises safety concerns

Inside the temporary homeless shelter —Iffley Open House—located in an empty old VW garage owned by Wadham College. Students are campaigning to allow squatters to continue using the building, which would otherwise be empty. They have provided kitchen equipment, mattresses, and heaters for the shelter. Photo by Ellen Peirson-Hagger

Iffley Open House has been served with an eviction order by the current leaseholders of the ground floor of a building that they are using as a temporary homeless shelter.

The Midcounties Co-operative Investment are taking legal action to imminently secure possession of the property, which is also owned by Wadham College. A court hearing is scheduled to take place tomorrow.

However, the appeal by the group of squatters to continue using a building on Iffley road owned by Wadham being backed by Wadham JCR and OUSU’s ‘On your Doorstep’ homelessness campaign.

Kevin Brown from Midcounties Co-operative Investment said: “We’re very sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, particularly at this time of year and are in dialogue with a number of parties to review all of our options for this site.”

Meanwhile Wadham college has stated that it would “prefer to resolve the situation amicably”.

However, the college has warned of safety concerns with the building, which they say contains large amounts of asbestos and has an unsafe roof.

The building, purchased by Wadham in 2015, is scheduled for demolition from the end of February so that it can then be turned it into student accommodation.

It has been occupied since New Year’s Eve by a group calling itself Iffley Open House. Around 36 people are believed to currently be sleeping in the space.

The group started a petition requesting the college’s permission to use the former VW garage as a temporary shelter until the end of winter.

The group said they want to “provide secure shelter and basic amenities for people sleeping rough on Oxford’s streets.”

A student campaign, started by a group of Wadham students, held a meeting this week, in attempts to push the college to allow the shelter to move upstairs in the building.

Chair of OUSU’s ‘On your Doorstep’ campaign, Jeevan Ravindran, told Cherwell the group would “do everything it can” to keep the shelter open.

Related  Depressed fathers impact children's development

He said: “Keeping Iffley Open House accessible for the winter months could save lives, and would be a chance for the university to show that they are willing to help. In the face of the loss of 145 beds for the homeless and shelter closures as temperatures plummet…it’s a disgrace to allow people to die on our streets.”

Speaking to Cherwell, Wadham SU President Lucas Bertholdi-Saad acknowledged that “the student body does have a material interest in ensuring the site is developed on schedule” but showed support for the temporary occupation.

He said: “Until and beyond the time at which Wadham will require access to the site, however, I believe that a state exists that minimises the risk of harm to the people staying at the Iffley site, whose current alternative is sleeping rough in freezing temperatures, and I know that Wadham students will be fighting for that end.”

On Friday morning students plan to stand outside Oxford crown court with banners during the court hearing.

At the time of going to print, 89 people had attended the event ‘Support Us at Court- Resist the Iffley Open House Eviction

In a statement on Thursday, Wadham said that while it was “profoundly sympathetic to the plight of homeless people in and around Oxford” that the college is “ obliged to ensure that the College’s assets can be used to their fullest extent and, in relation to the Iffley Road property, to construct new student accommodation, which will be particularly important for students of more modest means.”

“We are seeking to establish a constructive dialogue with all of the interested parties. We have met with representatives of the Iffley Open House and are working to reach a consensus on how best to resolve this matter.”

In a letter to Iffley Open House, seen by Cherwell, Wadham specifically warned of “serious safety issues for anyone visiting or remaining within this old and dilapidated building which is not considered safe for residential use.”