On Tuesday, a number of students entered and reclaimed Hetherington House as a free space at Glasgow University.
Sitting at 13 University Gardens, the building was previously home to one of the UK’s only PostGraduate clubs – the ‘Hetherington Research Club’, which closed its doors around a year ago after running up severe debts, and all efforts to save it as a commercial entity failing to hold water with the University big-wigs.
When my flatmate Alex first told me about the occupation, I didn’t have the most enthusiastic of feelings.
Whilst I’m passionate about political issues and long to be more ‘active’, I get put off after years of over-exposure to the internal politics which so often rise up and swallow people and situations whole; ideology over community.
After visiting today though, I have to admit that I was wrong. I’m both impressed and proud of what’s been done in the past few days. The space has been completely opened up again for the free use of students and staff (okay, maybe minus campus security!), and there’s a really laid-back, nice, communal atmosphere inside amongst the free tea and chopped up melon.
People have been wandering in and out, bringing bits and pieces along with them as they’re required, and a whole host of events have started to be booked in to make the best use of the space.
It’s got to be one of the most inspiring and creative political acts that I’ve seen in a long time, with no major ideology or group dominating one way or another, and with the simple aim to bring back a building that is part of the University’s cultural identity and history into use again. It’s brilliant.
They’ve even got a big Russian man in the kitchen cooking up a storm. What more can you ask for?
Who knows what’ll happen over the coming weeks, days, or even hours, as there was rumours a-flying about plans to have the building sold off and turned into offices fairly soon. The University have so far been extremely accomodating, even posting security guards outside in a car at night to ensure the safety of those who are staying over, as well as the building.. but how long this tolerance will last as the idea of a social space outwith their control puts down roots is another question. The legality of having such an existence, be it insurance, alcohol licensing, health and safety or other such things is something else which makes it unclear exactly how things are going to pan out.
Irrespective, it’s exciting, and it’s inspiring to see (and hopefully be a part of) some sort of effort to reclaim and populate a contested space. Hell, David Cameron wanted the ‘Big Society’, but maybe he isn’t quite ready for what society could throw back at him.. maybe none of us are.
If you’re a student in Glasgow, you should definitely head down at somepoint and check out what’s going on.. aside from anything else, there’s space to do some reading with free tea! It beats the QMU hands down.
Check out their Facebook page for more info.