COMMUNITY GROUP TO BE EVICTED BY COUNTY COUNCIL
SISTER Community Project lost their ongoing battle in court this afternoon and are set to be evicted in a week, despite public support.
The county council, who have been previously accused of ‘unfair play’, have gained a possession order against SISTER in a case about the building previously known as the Stroud Spiritualist Church. In a trial that lasted an hour, the Judge granted the possession order for the building, however also ordered that all costs must be paid by the county council and stated that they needed to think deeply about the community's concerns about empty buildings.
SISTER have been occupying the building in the centre of Stroud for three months, running a busy program of educational and community events and dinners, providing an exciting new third space for local young people and bringing together a variety of people for intergenerational conversations. Many different community groups have been hosting their meetings and gatherings in the building - local groups such as Parents for Future, Stroud Radical Reading Group, School is a Crime Scene, Tree Sisters, and Community Solidarity Stroud District, among others.
Despite initial offers from the County Council to negotiate on the future of the project, the council then ignored several attempts to begin this process of dialogue - instead taking SISTER to court in a process that was intially ruled at "unfair" by the judge due to the unlawfully, deliberately short notice period for the hearing. In the adjournment period from the last hearing (18th October 2023) SISTER say they have made persistent, "good faith" attempts to settle the matter with the council out of court.
The council have additionally recieved dozens of emails from local people in support of the occupation, but have refused to engage with any of the requests. Instead, a copy and pasted reply was sent around stating their intention to run a process to bid out the building to other community groups, an intention they repeated in court.
SISTER say that although they welcome any move that places buildings into community use, they lack trust that the council will follow through. A member of SISTER said "We've been speaking to one of the county councillors who are in support of our occupation who shared their concerns about the honesty of this promise, saying that they have experience of GCC running similar schemes which have been less than effective. They say the council made the process so difficult to find that no groups applied, then saying no one wanted the building and selling it off to private developers."
SISTER representative Grace, who was in court to defend the occupation today said this: "Why is this process only being done on this building? Why do this to the only community project being run by young people when the county council own dozens of empty buildings across the county that this could be done on? For the council's priority right now to be evicting a group of engaged young people from their community base, during a housing and cost of living crisis, is an outrage."
The group defend the decision to squat the building, with one member, Danny, saying "There are so many barriers to accessing space as young people, especially with youth services getting cut. Squatting is a way of having our voice heard and being able to provide what the council is failing to. Change doesn’t always come from asking nicely. So much of what we have is down to protest - voting, weekends, social housing, our Stroud Town Centre. Sometimes you have to stand up for something even if it’s not seen as the ‘proper’ way to go about it!”
The Council’s decision to evict the project has been met with disappointment by many. Adrian, a town councillor who came to support outside the Court, said "What we've seen today is young people making an incredibly strong case for community provision in their community, and the local authority
Simon Pickering, retired District Councillor of 20 years, said “What message does their eviction give to young intelligent entrepreneurs? People wanting to stay in the county to further their and others education which would help preserve unused old buildings, help deliver the county council's objective to make Gloucestershire the Greenest county. Their message looks like it is: “we don’t want bright dynamic young people in our county””
SISTER also took the moment to celebrate the people who inspired and supported them to take action. Devon Green said "we want to shout out the incredible community of squatters across the country, especially young people who right now are running incredible projects. It's such as powerful legacy in this country, it's why we have so much social housing, and we need to uplift people who are bringing so much to their communities instead of evict them!"
SISTER say that although they are frustrated to lose the legal battle, they see their occupation as a huge win overall. They plan to continue their community work, while looking for new premises - saying there have already been leads offered by members of the town and district council. Barry (a member of SISTER) says "the last few months have shown how much we can achieve when we take matters into our own hands. So many people have come to us sharing their frustration at the county council, how out of touch they are with what the community actually needs, and how glad they are that we have taken initiative."
So despite losing this building, SISTER is has lots of plans going forwards. You can follow updates on SISTER's work on their social media @s.i.s.t.e.r._news on Instagram and Facebook.