The Corner House opened its doors in October 1985. Its first film screening Nic Roege’s Insignificance; an adaptation of a play written by Terry Johnson and
performed at the Royal Court in 1982. During its thirty years lifespan it has showcased a diverse array of independent and foreign cinema, as well as hosting the UK premiere of Reservoir Dogs in 1998. In an MEN article from 2012 Dewi Lewis, founding director of The Corner House, is quoted as saying “…I’m still a great believer in that location…” when speaking about the then proposed move to what is now called Home at 2 Wilson Place, Manchester.
The building opposite the cinema at 70 Oxford Street, which started life as a furniture shop in the 1900s and is now occupied by Manchester Metropolitan University, housed The Corner House’s contemporary art exhibitions. These exhibitions were often curated to align with the cinema’s film schedule and many had a socio-political slant.
In July 2015 The Corner House closed its doors with a rave. It sat unused and neglected for 20 months, before a group of around 15- 20 squatters took up residence in the old Corner House offices. For the past few months this building has provided a roof for people Manchester City Council either can’t help, or won’t help.
Organised with the full support and input of these residents Loose Space is a collectively organised “autonomous space for arts, films, skill sharing and subversivness.” The two week series of events organised by the residents and activists running from 20th March to 1st April very much aligns with the spirit of The Corner House’s cultural and political history. The events include political talks, poetry readings, skill based workshops, live music and much more, as well as creating a beautiful canvas for artists from all backgrounds to freely express themselves and contribute to the beauty of the building.
Unfortunately on the 24th of March, four days after opening the doors to the public, the date of the resident’s High Court Hearing was bought forward at short notice from April 3rd to the following day; Friday 25th March. The residents lost their hearing and on Friday afternoon police and bailiffs arrived ready to remove people from the building. They arrived with four police vans, a dog unit and two bailiffs. Through passive protest and negotiation the residents were able to hold off eviction until 4pm on Monday 27th March.
Presently the United Kingdom is in a housing crisis. Anyone who has ventured into
Manchester city centre recently will have noticed the increased number of rough sleepers over the past few years but may be less aware of the vast numbers of “hidden homeless” those staying in squatted buildings or relying on the kindness of friends and family for a place to lay down their heads at the end of the day.
Under current homelessness legislation local authorities do not have a duty to help everyone who falls under the legal definition of homelessness. There is a criteria to meet and applications to make; bureaucratic hoops to jump through before the council will agree to provide accommodation. For this reason many homeless people do not even approach the local authority for help. According to Shelter in 2013/14 there were 81,000 households found to be homeless in the UK. Unfortunately these figures only include those households who have approached local authorities and does not include people who, for a variety of reasons, have not made an application to their local councils. It is very difficult to present accurate figures that demonstrate the full scale of the problem for this reason.
I was told that “Homelessness doesn’t discriminate” by one of the residents who was
considered “intentionally homeless” by the council when he moved to Manchester. This means that he is not entitled to help with housing. We may think that we’ll never find ourselves in a situation where we do not have a place to call home. I’m sure most people who find themselves without a roof over their heads once thought it would never happen to them either.
Since first visiting Loose Space on the 20th March I have been warmly welcomed into a space where I can play, create and learn to my heart’s content. It’s a place to spread knowledge and information, information that it is increasingly difficult for people to get access to in austerity Britain. It is a space embracing diversity of all kinds with the aim of bringing together Manchester’s community as well as drawing attention to issues surrounding the housing crisis, squatting and challenging ingrained stereotypes. For me, it has been far more therapeutic than the services provided during my stay in a mental health ward.
I spoke to a number of the residents asking how they felt about their impending eviction; if Loose Space hadn’t happened the High Court hearing would probably not have been
brought forward, and they would hold onto a building they have called home for the last few months a little bit longer. The response? “We’re going to be evicted anyway.” The residents I talked to are proud of what they have achieved so far with Loose Space. They are proud of the artwork and the community that is being created through the use of this building. They are fully behind the ideals of Loose Space and plan to continue the movement in the next neglected building they occupy. Of the event one resident said Loose Space was “… a positive example of how empty buildings can be used with the homeless community and wider community of Manchester city centre to showcase skills and talents, for education, training and health; as well as a home…” he finished by thanking all of those who are involved in creating and running the event with genuine gratitude.
The residents have been evicted before; from buildings that months after eviction remain
empty and unloved. The Corner House cinema building is owned by Network Rail while the gallery building opposite is owned by Manchester City Council. In July 2016 Network Rail and Manchester City Council appointed Bruntwood as the preferred developer for the site. According to Bruntwood’s website they own 20% of the buildings businesses in Manchester call home; including the iconic Afflecks.
According to the group “Save Oxford Road Corner” who are fighting against the possibility of a number of buildings on Oxford Road being demolished, including both former Corner House buildings, Bruntwood has
appointed consultancy firm Deloitte to develop a Strategic Regeneration Framework for the area. The planning process for this area is still in the early stages and the council do not see any public consultation beginning until “the summer/autumn period.”
After the eviction of the Loose Space organisers how long will the building, once again, sit abandoned and unused? Weeks? Months? Years? Will it sit empty during the long process of planning a new development? Will the developers eventually decide to demolish the building to make way for swanky new offices or expensive apartments? I hope and pray this is not the future for such a culturally significant building. Why, while the owners and developers leave the building idle, can this space not be cared for and used to create an autonomous space free to the public?
If you can, please get down to The Corner House today to show your support to everyone involved in this project and to help preserve the beauty and wonder that has been created inside over the past week.