Squatters invade former arts cafe

Sign on the window of the former Forest Cafe

Sign on the window of the former Forest Cafe

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MORE than 100 squatters have moved into the former premises of free arts centre the Forest Cafe in a bid to reclaim the space for the community.

The group includes men, women and children, with several families having joined the “squatted occupation” at Bristo Place.

Forest Cafe, renamed The People's Cafe where squatters have taken up residence

Forest Cafe, renamed The People's Cafe where squatters have taken up residence

They moved into the building, which they said was unlocked, on Wednesday afternoon and vowed to stay for “as long as it takes”.

The three-storey building has been empty for around three months after the Forest Cafe was forced to leave when Edinburgh University Settlement, which owned the building, went bankrupt. The former church is now in the hands of administrators and is up for sale.

Banners have been painted and displayed in the front windows, with slogans reading “The People’s Cafe” and “The Enemy is Profit”. There is also a notice which states: “We want to reclaim this empty, privately owned space as an open place for the community.”

The squatters hope to open the building to the public within the next few days and are holding meetings to discuss how the building could be used for the benefit of the community. They want to organise a programme of events which could include cooking workshops and arts or music projects.

Youth worker Rosa Stephens, 29, from Tollcross, who is among the squatters, said: “There is a diverse bunch of people involved, all from mixed backgrounds. There are lots of professionals, including community and youth workers who seem concerned about the lack of community-run spaces in the city centre.

“There have been about five different families who have come down, with the youngest person involved being around 11 months old and the oldest about 72.”

A campaign to save the Forest Cafe got under way earlier this year, with organisers of the cafe pointing out that if they could raise £100,000 they could secure a mortgage to buy the property for themselves.

Amy Douglas, a 32-year-old youth worker from Newington, added: “Those squatting in the building are not directly affiliated with the Forest Cafe, but recognise that its closure is part of an ongoing eradication of free, non- corporate spaces in Edinburgh city centre.

“Direct action has been taken to ensure that the space is not left unused but can be reopened for the benefit of the local community.”

Squatters said the action deliberately coincided with the UK-wide strikes over pensions on Wednesday. Some of the people involved in the squatting have also taken part in the Occupy Edinburgh movement at St Andrew Square.

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said: “Lothian and Borders Police are aware of the occupancy of premises in the Bristo Place area. There is no evidence of criminality at this time and police are monitoring the situation.”