Yesterday and this morning, residents and activists occupying houses on the Sweets Way estate in North London were violently evicted by bailiffs and police to make way for 288 swanky new flats and houses, of which only 59 will be "affordable". The estate is owned by developer Annington Homes, which described the properties as being "illegally occupied by squatters."
The majority of the residents of Sweets Way left at the beginning of this year, leaving behind hundreds of empty homes. Activists, supporters and some former residents have spent the last few months moving in to the empty properties and doing them up to make them livable. They called the DIY rebel stronghold Sweetstopia, and it was an attempt to prove that the destruction of the homes is unnecessary.
The occupiers of the estate woke up to shouts of "bailiffs", as around 50 high court enforcement officers forced entry to the houses to remove the activists and residents still living there. They were backed up by police, as well as fire and ambulance crews.
Activists had built makeshift barricades around the few houses that were still occupied, using whatever they could find from the estate to keep the bailiffs from entering – mostly pallets, cupboard doors and wooden boards with angry words written on them.
By lunchtime, most of the homes were empty, although protestors had taken to the roofs of some properties, refusing to move.
Bailiffs, flanked by police officers, then used an industrial scissor lift to get onto the buildings and forcibly remove the activists.
Some tried to resist. This guy was left hanging from the lift as he struggled with the bailiffs. At one point, one bailiff looked as though he could send the activist splattering to the ground simply by letting go, just to hear the dull thud of his body crumpling into some concrete. Although in fact he was secured to a rope.
Once on the ground, more bailiffs and police piled in, and the activist was arrested. As he was taken away, others chanted "Shame on you".
This guy, on the other hand, decided to play dead, resulting in him being carried off the roof and away in the manner of a grandfather clock being delivered.
I spoke to an activist who wanted to remain anonymous, who described being forced out in the early morning: "We woke up to bailiffs and police moving in, and even though the police are here to prevent a breach of the peace, they inevitably take sides. They're prejudiced, and Annington don't give a shit about the people living here. They're just out to make as much money as possible."
By the end of the day, the only original resident left on the estate was disabled father of four Mostafa Aliverdipour. He has been offered alternative accommodation by the council, but can't move there as it's unsuitable for his wheelchair.
The court ruling that allows bailiffs to evict Mostafa only came at around three o'clock in the afternoon, by which time a wall of fences, chairs, doors and broken glass had been built around his home in an attempt to keep the bailiffs out. Around 20 people were in the house, and they took to the roof as police looked on.
Eventually, reinforcement arrived in the form of three vans full of riot police. They planned to use the pretext of apparently stolen property being embedded in the barricade to enter the property. A police helicopter hovered above, but the officers eventually decided not to risk aggravating the situation any more, and they kept their distance.
One of the estate's former residents, who was forced to move her family to Hendon in April and who didn't feel like telling me her name, told me that the protest shows the strength of the community: "I lived here for 15 years, but now I'm lost. The council have treated people really badly, it's disgusting. Some people have been offered accommodation as far away as Birmingham. What the people are doing is trying to protect the estate, and it's a beautiful estate... We had an incredible community, we knew our neighbours, it was safe. To [evict us] just to build luxury flats, it's disgusting. The affordable houses they've promised are not really affordable, and they'll still be bought up by landlords just to rent them out and cash the profits."
She added: "I've never seen an eviction so violent before. Especially when they started pushing the metal fences against the people, it was scary."
In a statement, Annington Homes said "All tenants have known since 2009 that the accommodation was temporary subject to redevelopment of the estate, and all new tenants who have arrived in the intervening years have been made aware that this housing was only available for a limited period."
Sian Berry, the Green Party's mayoral candidate, was on the estate supporting the activists. "If you look at the people evicted here today, they're homeless now. They didn't have anywhere to live, and there were empty homes here", she said. "They're responding to a natural need, they need a home. We absolutely support them, and I don't want to see homes left empty."
This morning, at around 8AM, bailiffs finally moved in on Mostafa's house, and evicted the last Sweets Way family. Mostafa still doesn't have a permanent place to go. More riot police were brought in to assists bailiffs in removing people from the roof of Mostafa's former home. Over the two days, nine activists were arrested. With the last resident now evicted from the estate, Annington are free to start demolishing houses and developing luxury flats where the former Housing Association homes once stood.
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