Have you ever seen empty buildings that are just sat there slowly rotting away and not being put to good use? Whilst you are passing by them do you ever dream of doing something constructive with them that will benefit the local community as a whole?
There’s hundreds of thousands if not millions of disused and derelict buildings all over the world gradually decomposing to a slow death for a variety of reasons. The main one being that a company has declared itself bankrupt and there are no buyers to move in to the premises that has been abandoned. Sometimes squatters will move in and use them as a living space or even to put on free-tekno parties and this has been the case here in London for the best part of the last 30 years. There was a building that became available to lease at a fair price in Hackney, North London and this gave the guys behind ‘The Hive’ an idea… Why not turn this space in to a self-funded and independant Arts, Culture and Environmental centre? A place that catered for everyone in the local community and beyond, a place where people could come and be creative, a place where love was based over profit, a place where people could come in and educate themselves and a place where people could come, have an active part to play in and feel part of something special. And this truly is something special.
I had the honour of visiting The Hive recently and it’s an experience I will truly never forget. The staff and volunteers are friendly, genuine people who have all had parts to play in the activism scene in London and beyond. My friend Rob – who is the sound engineer at the centre – told me about an open mic night happening there and as I’m a broke poet I jumped at the chance to get another performance under my belt. The minute I walked in the place I was greeted with a smile by one of the volunteers and shown around. There are three floors. The first floor has a walk-in cafe which is run by the resident chef Ivan. Here you can get tea, coffee and light refreshment at great value (less than half the price of anywhere else close by) and he also makes communal meals such as his mouth watering vegetarian lasagne. The first floor also has a stage and a space that can fit an audience of 100+, sofas and chairs to relax on and lots of activism/environmentalist information posters on the wall. The second floor is a huge art expedition space which is used regularly and where live art classes take place. And on the third floor there is a recording facilities for musicians to come in and get creative with the sound engineer Rob.
After a 15 minute tour of the centre I felt truly in love with the place. You could sense the promise in the atmosphere and everybody was working together as a team to make this dream turn in to reality. This was a centre that was open to the public to come in and feel part of something wonderful, a place where all were welcome and a place that put two fingers up at materialism and capitalism. I got talking to a few of the guys there and as soon as I heard they’d been in the activism scene for so long – fighting for all of our rights to live peacefully – I knew this wasn’t just another pretend community arts space. These guys are in it for the love of it and because they want to help people on a non-profit basis. Perfect! Who can argue with a winning formula like that? I interviewed one of the guys behind ‘The Hive’ called Gee to ask him a couple of questions…
Q: What made you think of the idea of turning this disused building in to an independant Arts, Culture and Environmental centre?
A: The idea has been around for a long time now and in lots of places around the world. In some places it’s easier to do it than others for obvious reasons. I’ve been part of a few different types of projects but what I wanted to do with this one was to try and make it easier for people here in Hackney to do it to. We try and remove all the obstacles that normally make this sort of project impossible. This particular place is a showcase of the model that allows that. We hope it catches on.
Q: Can you see this idea taking off and other people putting disused buildings to good use in the future
A: That’s the basic plan. To create an infrastructure and a culture here in London to help it thrive again. London needs a vibrant subculture to sustain itself.
Q: What is your long-term goal for The Hive?
A: I hope the Hive gains recognition for what it is – a sustainable, flexible, interconnected blueprint for similar projects – and uses that recognition to encourage more developers and councils to help build this infrastructure. Then we can maybe start a wave of buildings and spaces opening up everywhere carrying everyone forward with a bit more hope and belief. Projects like this help people. Especially the people in the projects!
I visited the centre twice more over the following days and continued to be impressed. A movie night was held and screened on a big projector and I also recorded a song with the sound engineer. There is no entry fee to the centre and everything is done on a donations basis. I came out of there enlightened, inspired and happy, was fed two meals, had countless cups of coffee and made use of the recording facilities. The price I was asked to pay? ZERO. I made a donation of course though as the centre relies on them to stay afloat.
This is a winning formula, is ethical, donation based, everyone is welcome and it’s making great use of a space that would be otherwise just sat there as an eye-sore rotting away. This capitalist society and corporate machine doesn’t cater for places like this but who can argue that it’s not a fantastic idea where everyone is a winner apart from this machine that has destroyed so much in it’s path of destruction? There is anything from live art exhibitions to movie nights to open nights to poetry slams to music concerts to recording facilities to dance classes to environmental education and much, much more. And you know what this encourages? Creativity. I’d like to believe that more centres like this will be opening in London, Britain and all over the world in the next few years. This is a great concept and is bound to take off. I can see a domino effect starting here.
If you’d like more information on The Hive then please visit the centre at 260 Kingsland Road, Hackney (just South of Haggerston overground train station)