Centre Point

CENTRE POINT on TOTTENHAM COURT ROAD was left empty for years as a speculative investment by owner Harry Hyams against a backdrop of increasing homelessness. In a daring and imagnative action squatters ocupies the building in January 1974 – two of them having got jobs with the security firm guarding it. Amongst the squatters was RON BAILEY a veteran of the Solidarity Group and occupier of homeless hostels. Unfortunately the occupiers came out after two days……but an act of such imagination again in occupying empty super luxury apartments could ignite some meaningful social struggles around affordable housing………..any of the original squatters like to post here be good to hear from you on how it was organised.


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6 responses to “CENTRE POINT OCCUPATION 1974

  1. The taking of Centre Point started at a meeting in EAST – we had already done something for the Notting hill Carnival so we of HAC The Homeless Action Campagion decided that we would take Centre Point and put dye in Trafalgor Square Fountain which did not happen.

    It was the most violent .police action to date. Dragging people out of their cars and basically beating the shit out of them.

    We read all about it in the Mirror the next day! I remember more of that day.

    • Steve

      Hmm! Not too sure about the accuracy of some comment here. I remember both of the attempts to occupy Centre Point. The first, unsuccessful attempt was in September 1973 and the second (successful) attempt was a few months later in 1974. I don’t recall any organisation going under the acronym of EAST (though there may have been some such group around) but in any case this was not the group who planned and executed the occupation. The generic title adopted was the Housing Action Group (and a later spin off who organised a squat of luxury studio flats in South London known as the Housing Action Campaign).

      The organisers included some well known Anarchists (including Ron Bailey) but also people from a variety of differnt groups (including Labour Party members like Jack Dromey – now an MP) and several independent or non-aligned political and community activists of various hues. All-in-all about a hundred people were directly involved – which makes the feat of keeping it secret between the failed September 1973 attempt and the later action in January 1974 an incredible achievement given the number of infiltrators and loose talkers around on the left in those days (as now).

      There was very little violence at any stage in the event, including the demo of some 18,000 people called at less than two days notice for the Sunday. I seem to recall one guy being dragged out of his car during the occupation – probably for sounding his horn in noisy support – but on the whole the coppers were on their best behaviour because the place was surrounded by film and TV cameras.

      The plan was to go in for the weekend and come out to a big demonstration on the Sunday – which is what happened. There were some people who wanted to change the plan halfway through the occupation but they were a minority and the proposal was voted down by those inside the building – not because they were against having a longer term occupation but because it was not practical or sensible to change carefully laid plans and tactics half way through the operation and we had all joined the action on the basis of the original plan.

      The demonstration on the Sunday when we came out (for which the CP provided a number of stewards as they were able to mobilise disciplined and experienced comrades at such short notice) was hugegly successful. Not even the right wing Yellow Press could find much to hurl mud at and the whole event gained ovewhelming public support and highlighted the issue of greedy property speculators making fortunes while buildings stood empty and families had no homes. This was a highly successful publicity stunt and also an example of the power of direct action and I can’t really think of much in the thirty-nine years since (other than a few successful industrial struggles) that compares with it. The Centre Point occupation helped contribute towards a climate of popular dislike for greedy capitalists and Heath’s Tory government and helped set the scene for later struggles a few months later (led by the NUM) which brought the government down.

      • Malcolm

        Definitely no enthusiasm from my part for the occupation to extend beyond our original planned weekend. I worked for Camden Council and would have the face the music that Monday Morning. Amusingly, I actually gained promotion by being recruited by the then Labour Controlled London Borough of Brent to set up an Empty Property Monitoring Program for publicly owned housing. We managed to bring many more into use and speed up turnover rates, thus housing many families. Malcolm.

  2. Ned

    The sort of daring and imaginative action we need more of today…

  3. Malcolm

    The taking of Centre Point was done with the utmost care. Some of us had ‘sensitive jobs’ at the time. However, one other, albeit minor good thing came of it – the ruling Brent Labour Group set me the task of investigating the extent of empty homes in that borough. It did a little good, just a little, I drafted a ‘Charter for Homes for All’, a sort of, ‘Magna Carta’ and Bishop Trevor Huddleston signed it. I ran out of money and had to let it be. Sadly, the agony of homelessness and want, remains an undercurrent of life in the New Century. We still do not practise the principles of basic humanity. Food, shelter and a role in life – surely the basics of civilization. Malcolm

  4. Tim

    As a teenager newly arrived in central London I was one of the 18,000 on the Sunday along with my mum and siblings.I still remember the slogan in single letters on each of the windows about half way up too
    We’re just wild about Harry
    Harry’s just wild about us!

    Think the No Dash For Gas occupations and Greenpeace climbing the Shard are in a similar vein.


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