I was chairing the CIEH’s excellent empty homes conference yesterday, when at lunchtime I turned on my mobile to be confronted with “you have 16 new messages” all of them it turned out from journalists. ITV had tracked me down and were waiting outside. What on earth had provoked this?
The answer it turns out is this. Squatters in Bishops Avenue.
For those of you not obsessed with the self-absorbed world of London real estate, Bishops Avenue in Hampstead is said to be Britain’s most exclusive address. Houses have changed hands here for £80million. So news that squatters were here got the property correspondent’s pulses racing.
The story it turns out is much more interesting than that. Calim Ciufudean and his colleagues are not squatters at all. They are licensees or as he puts it caretakers. The crucial difference is they are here with the owner’s consent. Their company Prep ltd offers to look after properties that have been abandoned. The concept proved a bit difficult for some newspapers to understand but the Sun got it, so did London Tonight on ITV. Although some of their viewers came out with the old lines “why don’t they get a job and rent” Apart from the fact that Calim and his colleagues do have jobs, the prejudices just don’t work here. Calim is a resourceful man who is sorting out his own housing and preventing a property falling into wrack and ruin.
There really is something new here. As the local estate agent in Hampstead said: "There's squatting on Bishops Avenue in every recession but it's becoming more organised and gentlemanly. It was more anarchic in the 70s when squatters used to take possession. It's now more organised than squatting, it's more like house sitting”