A year ago we started building an archive of housing struggles that have taken place in London over the last decade. Having seen how useful it can be for us and other activists to read pamphlets and other documents from past rent strikes and other housing campaigns in UK, we realised that trying to preserve a memory of present struggles is essential for future activists. Furthermore, we know from personal experience how busy housing activists can be, and how, while in the frenzy of the struggle, keeping copies of the materials produced can often be forgotten. Especially in an era of social media, when most propaganda material is digital, it seemed imperative to do something to archive the wealth of ephemera from recent campaigns.
Our main interest was to archive materials that highlight the different tactics adopted by the campaigns. We have never been precious about the originality of the material, therefore you’ll also find amongst the collection a series of materials 56a Infoshop holds. We were interested in the posters and flyers campaigns have been producing to engage communities, either by organising social events and protests or holding meetings. We also collected newspaper clippings that give a better understanding of the campaigns. In some cases, we also archived the documents associated with legal cases from campaigns.
We organised two open meetings, to which we invited all the different campaigns we knew of at the time, in order to examine the characteristics the collection should have that would make it more accessible and useful to future activists. That was also an opportunity to get printed material from campaigners who attended the meetings. There were a series of questions raised during those meetings that helped us shape the collection into its current form. One question that kept repeating was about why we are archiving struggles that are still ongoing. Our view of an archive is not some dusty boxes full of dead materials drawn from the far past. MDR’s approach to archiving is to create active resources for people resisting oppression, which means that including in the archive campaigns that are still ongoing will give activists the chance to get to know to them and access their materials regardless of their current status. We also focus on archiving materials from the present that are in danger of becoming lost, either because they are ephemeral by nature, because they may be repressed by the state, or lost when people are displaced from their homes.
We managed to track down around 65 campaigns, a lot of them still ongoing. For some we managed to find printed materials and for others we data-scraped images from their Twitter pages. We also archived campaigns’ websites and these website archives will be automatically updated until each campaign reaches its end. We have created a map (see below) to show the location of each campaign, accompanied by a short description and contact details so that it’s easier to browse them and locate them within the city.
While trying to collect materials for all three strands (housing campaigns, squatting and rent strikes, housing coops), we realised that it was impossible to do the job alone. For this reason we asked Chris from 56a Infoshop to carry out a residency to collect materials on the rich squatting history of London. You will therefore find two boxes on the politics of organised squatting in the archive, which are the outcome of his research. Chris will also publish a pamphlet, which will be available in August. We also managed to create a small collection on modern rent strikes, mainly with contributions from the UCL Cut the Rent campaign.
After a couple of open calls to the housing activist communities, Jane Foot, an ex member of East London Big Flame, deposited with MDR a box of materials from struggles between 1975 and 1991, mainly on the Campaign Against the Sell out of the Estates (CASE UK), which commenced with Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy, and other related pamphlets on housing.
This archive, like all archives, remains incomplete. The collection will continue to be updated so if you have information and/or materials on other campaigns do send them over. We are hoping that this collection will be very useful indeed and that it will contribute to raising knowledge around the actualities, tactics, and successes or losses of London’s housing campaigns.
This project has been implemented with the kind support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.