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Final swansong for derelict community building taken over by squatters

By James Byrne

A derelict community building run by squatters from ‘The Okasional Cafe’ group held a final swansong on Saturday.

A special band night – Folk Fights – hosted a selection of local acts that provided a last hurray for the squat that ended on Sunday.

Karima Francis, The Observer’s ‘number 1 act to follow’ in 2009 played a stand-out set along with other bands including The Yossarians and The Happy Soul.

The gig was set in a cramped room on the ground floor, requiring the audience to get a bit up close and personal with each other.

However, the vibe of the event was quite relaxed, with people hugging the walls or finding places to sit to create as much space as possible.

The building, 362 Wilmslow Road, has been used by the OKcafe group as a function house providing meals, workshops and artistic events for the public.

Before they moved into the building in early October, it had been deserted for two years and had previously been a residential home.

The occupation seemed to be well organised with clear directions signposted on how to keep the house hygienic and comfortable for everyone who visited.

A spokesman from the group who did not want to identified, said: “We don’t pick houses for the squat, we choose community buildings that should be going to good use but aren‘t.”

“There have been some problems with the police in the past but in this case they have been pretty understanding. At the moment, it’s a civil problem, not a criminal one.”

Police did arrive halfway through the gig to warn against noise pollution but were seemingly appeased by crowd responses and no more action was taken.

The gig finished formally at 1am with a folksy blues explosion by headliners, The Yossarians, and anyone still standing mellowed in a makeshift cellar disco afterwards.

The Okcafe has been occupying derelict Manchester buildings since 1998 to promote their views but the future of their occupations is now in doubt.

A new bill, the Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill is currently being reviewed in the House of Lords after the House of Commons passed it on 2 November.

The bill will criminalise squatting, dissolving previous civil allowances that allowed the ‘Okcafe’ an allocated amount of time in a building.

The gig organiser, Benjamin Joel, believes the popularity of OKcafe over the last month highlights its cultural importance especially in the light of criminalisation.

Mr Joel said: “With the right intent every long term unused space holds the potential to develop a community and culture in a less monetary derived way in which everyone can be included. This does also include housing people who cannot afford the demands a rented property insists upon.

For more information about the OKcafe check out http://okcafe.wordpress.com/

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