Hounslow Councillor calls Watermans' squatters 'an obstacle' to reopening in row

By Cesar Medina

17th Jun 2024 | Local News

Hounslow Labour ask squatters to leave while they claim the council has left Watermans to 'rot' (credit: Cesar Medina).
Hounslow Labour ask squatters to leave while they claim the council has left Watermans to 'rot' (credit: Cesar Medina).

Hounslow Council Deputy Leader, Councillor Tom Bruce has spoken out against the squatters at Watermans, calling them "an obstacle" to the art centre.

Last week, Cllr Bruce released a statement on the issue after it was revealed that squatters had settled in the now shut Watermans Art Centre.

Cllr Bruce says the occupants refuse to leave the premises on the basis that they are looking after the Brentford site which the Labour Cllr does not believe.

He says: "It is with sadness that we note squatters have now occupied the former Watermans Art Centre building, and have refused to vacate.

"The Council is currently working with the Hounslow Arts Trust, which is the current tenant of the building, and we are aiming to remove the occupiers as swiftly as possible.

"Our priorities are public safety and protecting the integrity of the building.

"The squatters have claimed in a statement that they occupied the former Watermans Art Centre building in order to save arts and culture in Brentford.

"This is false, as the occupation is now an obstacle to the valuable work the Hounslow Arts Trust is doing in delivering its programme of much-needed arts and culture across the borough.

"It is only when the squatters vacate the building that we can move forward together with this programme.

Cllr Bruce adds: "It is also very disappointing that the squatters' occupation have put on hold the Council's plans for meanwhile use of the building, an initiative that I know Brentford residents really wanted to see happen.

READ MORE: Hounslow Labour Group release statement on the closure of Watermans Art Centre

"Hounslow Council's Labour administration are still committed to delivering a new arts centre on the Police Station site in Brentford and we are working closely with all our local partners, including the Hounslow Arts Trust, to achieve this.

"The work on this important development is ongoing and continues to be our top priority.

"The actions of the squatters only serve to disrupt this endeavour and create division in our community, rather than working with both the Council and the Hounslow Arts Trust for a positive way forward for Brentford residents."

However, the squatters have told Brentford Today & TV that the council has left Watermans unprotected with windows wide open, equipment left in puddles and rubbish left to pile up.

Via Brentford Today & TV, they say: "They (Hounslow Council) left windows wide open. Anyone could have entered to steal equipment. Others were broken.

"We have secured these windows and boarded up the broken ones. We have cleaned up the broken glass.

"The place was full of puddles. Much of the equipment was left in these puddles. We have removed the equipment and mopped up the puddles and placed buckets to prevent more water.

"We are disgusted that the Trust abandoned this abundance of valuable equipment to deteriorate or be easily stolen and we have made efforts to preserve everything we found and we are in contact with the Trust to return the equipment they need.

"We are also outraged that this building has been left to rot."

Watermans Art Centre closed on 11 April 2024 due to financial difficulties (credit: Cesar Medina).

The squatters even go as far as to explain that the cause of the fire, which broke out at the centre on 5 June, was caused by the council's neglect for properly securing the site during its closure back in April.

"The outbreak of the fire is an example of this. A lot of rubbish was left piled up which was a fire hazard in the first place, the squatters say.

"Since the fire, nothing has been done to protect the rest of the building from water damage and further decay.

"We intend to do everything we can to protect it and prevent any more destruction to this valuable community resource which has been criminally neglected by the trust and the council."

The squatters add: "The council have not at all been in contact with us. The could have contacted us by email but they have not.

"They have not asked us to leave. Section 144 of the Legal Aid and Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act gives us the right to occupy this building.

"Since we live in this building it is a legal offence to enter it without our permission. Attempt to enter this building by violence could receive up to six month's imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

"If they wish to remove us from this building there are legal steps they can take and they can take us to court.

"We have reason to believe that the trust and the council do not have any intentions to protect this space as a community centre. We suspect that they have been intentionally running the Trust into the ground by making it harder to put on events and by actively not advertising the space.

"We imagine that they have been planning for a while to sell this prime real estate to property developers.

"When they claim that we are in the way of community arts projects, we say that they are the ones who have sabotaged the provision of community arts, caused damage to this building and the equipment through neglect and that they do not intend to reopen this space.

"We intend to preserve this space to be used as it was intended as a public community arts centre for the people. We are planning an upcoming open day to invite local people into the space.

"We are in contact with artists who are keen to get involved. If anyone would like to take part please email us at [email protected]."

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