Exclusive: Squatters set to stay

“Strong indications” court will rule in favour of Iffley squatters remaining in temporary homeless shelter

Illustration: Christy Spring

Iffley Open House have stated there are “strong indications” that squatters will be allowed to stay in the temporary homeless shelter set up on Iffley road after a hearing on Friday morning.

Speaking exclusively to Cherwell on Thursday night they said: “We really hope that we will be able to stay in the shelter. There have been strong indications that this will be the case and that the court will rule in our favour tomorrow.”

The current leaseholders of the Iffley Road squat, Midcounties Co-op, have expressed a similar confidence that they will reach an “amicable arrangement”, allowing the squatters to remain in the property, which is owned by Wadham college, throughout the rest of winter.
In a statement the company suggested that they will allow the property’s continued use as a homeless shelter until legally required to hand it back to Wadham in April.

Kevin Brown, Group General Manager for the Midcounties Co-op said: “We successfully adjourned the repossession process on Friday for seven days to give us more time to reach a positive outcome.

“We’ve also completed a health and safety inspection of the site. The areas affected by asbestos have been cordoned off, and we’re satisfied that the building is safe and that those staying there are taking their duty of care very seriously.

“In April we have a legal obligation to hand the site back, with vacant possession, to our landlord Wadham College. To ensure we’re able to meet that requirement, we will request a repossession order at Court next Friday, but our preference is not to have to use it.”

Students across the university have continued to show support in favour of the current residents of Iffley Open House (IOH). On Thursday, a motion was passed without opposition at OUSU Council to, “unequivocally support the actions of IOH.”

The motion called for, “Oxford Students to offer practical help, such as legal expertise, marketing skills, donations and volunteered time.”

Related  Lincolnites suffer from rowdy bar

At Wadham, the Students’ Union (SU) voted in favour of paying legal fees on behalf of the Iffley House Group.

Wadham SU President Lucas Bertholdi-Saad told Cherwell: “Wadham College, and Wadham Students’ Union, do have a material interest in the redevelopment of the Iffley Road Site and its development on schedule.

“Despite the health and safety issues around the occupation, it is far safer to be sheltered in IOH during the Oxford winter than out on the streets. Wadham College has an opportunity to offer concrete support to vulnerable people.

“Occupiers at IOH should be allowed to stay as long as is reasonable. Wadham College should help IOH in trying to ensure they do not need to return to the streets after the building needs to be vacated.

“Cuts to homelessness services by Oxfordshire county council have helped create a crisis in Oxford. It is a scandal that, in one of the richest cities in one of the richest nations on Earth, people still sleep rough in the streets in winter. People need homes, empty spaces need people.”

Hannah-Lily Lanyon, who seconded the motion at Wadham SU, said: “Many Wadham students are part of the IOH community, and do not want to have a split interest between Wadham and IOH: we want both College and IOH to be working together to help find solutions for homelessness while the weather is particularly awful.

“We urge College to open up the eleven empty flats above the currently occupied space, which would provide the housing which is so desperately and urgently needed.”

In response to the statement from the Co-op, the IOH group described its residents as relieved, and gave thanks to its supporters.

A member of the group told Cherwell: “Our focus now is to work with Co-op to turn their positive statements into a concrete agreement that will ensure the current residents can continue living in their new home securely through the harshest of the winter months. Until an agreement is made we face potential eviction in court this Friday.”

Related  The fall of party power?

The group continue to urge people to show their support, and say that they “will support the Co-op and Wadham College to do the right thing in their local community, actions they say they are keen to take”.

The building, initially purchased by Wadham in 2015, is scheduled for demolition in order that it can be turned it into student accommodation.
The site has been occupied since New Year’s Eve by IOH. Around 36 people are believed to currently be sleeping in the space.