Last week I got a phone call from a squatter's collective called ANAL, or the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians, saying they had been evicted from the Institute of Directors, the building they squatted near Buckingham Palace that they showed me round at the end of March.
They invited me to view the new squat they had taken early in the morning of the 2nd of April, so I went to visit. I wasn't expecting much as I arrived opposite Trafalgar Square. Then, one of the squatters called "R" (annoyingly they all only gave me an initial) pointed at the banners covering the Admiralty Arch, right in front of Buckingham Palace.
R told me that they had been evicted from the Institute of Directors with relative ease. But like a teenager drinking WKD on a park bench, these guys had a taste for Pall Mall and it wasn't long before they were back.
Looking up at the anticapitalist banners, I was surprised that these guys had managed to bag this high profile building, right on Trafalgar Square, at the peak of the Easter holiday. As we went inside through a back door, there were about ten highly visible security guards hanging around the corners of the building.
Inside there was an office where people were laying on posh leather sofas, drinking wine and listening to punk. M, a woman I recognised from the Institute of Directors, greeted me with a hug. J smiled at me and offered me a nespresso coffee while lying on a sofa, smoking a rollie, surrounded by old copies of Hamlet and political documents. He told me he expected an eviction the same day.
The building was grade one listed and is pretty famous, but I had no idea of the scale of the space inside. J explained the building was once part of the Cabinet Office. He took out something that looked like a crumpled eviction notice with doodles on out of his pocket, "Basically they're selling it off to make a five-star hotel," he said.
Looking around, there was the debris of the government offices that had been there before: ties hung up, bottles of booze that looked like they would cost about a month's rent, photographs of David Cameron and a signature book that looked very private members club. I felt like I had just broken into the rumpus room at an Oxbridge college, except it was located next to the Queen's home. It was probably the most baller squat ever.
J and S, another woman I hadn't met before, offered to give me tour the place. They wanted to take me to the roof. After walking down four different corridors we came to one of the main stairwells. We went through empty room after beautiful high ceilinged room empty room. J warned me to not to leave them, as there was a risk of getting lost, which is pretty rare for a squat.
I asked the guys if they were worried about being arrested at all but they didn't seem phased at all. "Oh no. I don't care. Under this government, under all this blood money, there's really no point. I have no future. There's no jobs left anyway," said J.
We reached the roof and five squatters politely helped me up a ladder to get to the top. The 360 degree view was pretty mind blowing. I guess the hotel will be able to charge a premium if they open up a roof bar.
On the roof the squatters started singing and yelling anti-capitalist slogans and some of the tourists below seemed to look up. I decided it was time to head back down.
After walking down the street, I looked up at the arch and watched J and the others lean of the window and stand on the edge of the roof. People started gasping and taking photographs and I saw another girl, O who I recognised from the Institute of Directors building cycling past. I asked her what she thought about all the commotion. "I think it's really good we have anarchist action in the run up to the general election and having it in front of Buckingham Palace is really symbolic," she said. "You could have ten empty buildings to each homeless person. I really think they should bring back residential squatting rights. This group are homeless too. They are fighting for homelessness awareness and actually have the guts to do these things."
I left the Mall and a few hours later got a call from O telling me they had been evicted. I got back to the scene at nightfall to find a large group of them on the corner of the Arch outside.
The group gradually moved towards their other squat in Soho, laden with bags of stuff and trolleys full of banner paint. The contrast between the designer handbags, couples drinking wine and American families going to the M&M store was pretty stark.
It's clear that this group of homeless political activists are taking their actions seriously. They're organised, articulate and so far no one has been arrested. Each occupation has been "one step closer to power", but it still seems kind of unlikely they'll be squatting Buckingham Palace just yet.