Bryony Beynon is a writer, musician and activist from South Wales living in South London. As co-director of HollabackLDN, a collective that contributes to a global network to end street harassment, she’s helped mobilise heckled women and as former singer of Sceptres (with Louis from The Shitty Limits) and guitarist of hardcore destroyers Good Throb, she’s added a whole lot of urgent noise to the London punk scene.
Now she’s part of a new co-op DIY Space For London that’s aiming to set up a long-term, sustainable social centre for DIY music, culture and radical activity in the heart of this expensive city, and, if everything goes to plan, London is about to get the kinda awesome hang space – a la Copenhagen or Seattle – it is seriously lacking at the moment. We caught up with the busy fireball to find out why exactly we need a new community space and how we can expect this one to roll out.
What exactly is DIY Space For London?
DIY Space for London is a project that’s been set up to create a long-term, sustainable social centre for DIY music, culture and radical activity in London, that will be run by its members and open for anyone to get involved in.
Why did you start it?
We had all been dreaming about a space like this existing in London, either from travelling to and playing and touring at amazing squats and social centres in Europe and DIY spaces and basements in the USA, or feeling the contrast between the temporary excitement of setting up squat shows in London and the crushing sense of boredom of not usually having a space to call our own beyond the back room of a pub that wasn’t about to get raided, evicted, shut down etc. After some time we put the call out for people who felt the same way and the response so far has been truly amazing.
How do you hope it will have an impact?
When temporary spaces are evicted, all the energy and ideas tend to drain away, but this space will be long-term and legal. Having a safe, legal and accessible place for gigs, rehearsals, meetings, exhibitions, socialising and a lot more that is not run for anyone’s personal profit would have a huge impact on how people view their involvement in DIY and radical communities. Hiring space for events, gigs, and exhibitions is stupidly expensive in this city. It’d allow people to connect in the real world, get more involved with different projects, bands, activist campaigns etc., and generally feel less isolated. By being member-run we will be taking collective responsibility of a building, which is a super empowering thing for anyone to be involved with.
What’s the punk scene like in London at the moment?
Undoubtedly there’s been a real groundswell in the last year or so of new bands forming and playing gigs together that sound totally different to each other, and are more united by their politics or ways of viewing the world than by their sound or genre, which makes for some super great gigs. Venues like Power Lunches that are more amenable to DIY gigs are a great step in the right direction, and lots of local gigs are now benefits for the space too. The community has really come together to support the idea and make it a reality. Some great bands based in London right now are Cop, No, Weird Menace, Die, Hunger, Skinny Girl Diet, Woolf, Family Outing and Bloomer.
Who’s involved in DIY Space For London and what does everyone do?
We’re a pretty diverse bunch, from gig promoters, art people, squatters and ex-squatters, people who play in bands, run labels, activists, librarians, writer-types, students, office jobbers and unemployed, and punks of every stripe with relevant experience in social centres, running projects, managing budgets and that sort of thing. We have an organising group for the nitty gritty, and then have intermittent open social meetings with cake and beer!
How can people get involved/show support?
At the moment the thing we are most in need of is cash, as well as energy and enthusiasm of course! 100% of our donations will go towards the cost of a lease on a building. We’ve raised over £6000 in the first year, through loads of awesome benefit events, gigs, exhibitions, screenings, festivals, merchandise and other very generous donations. Our current fundraising drive is about getting to the £10,000 mark before the year is out, so we’re looking for anyone who’d like to see a space like this exist to get actively involved, put on a fundraiser, or become a ‘friend’ by donating a small amount each month. We’re also about to become incorporated as a legally recognised cooperative – a ‘society for the benefit of the community’ – which means official membership is on the horizon too. Once we’re open, anyone who signs up gives £1 for a share in the space that also acts as their membership fee, giving them a vote in how the space is run and every opportunity to get involved, work a shift, put on an event or hold a meeting.
What have been the major challenges in bringing DIY Space For London to life?
Our biggest challenge will always be raising enough cash from ethical sources to make this a reality, bearing in mind we live in one of the most expensive cities in Europe and there’s a huge land grab for any kind of reasonably well-located property. Aside from that, getting to grips with legal structures and making sure our finances are in order – not the natural skills of punks! We’re getting there slowly though and are always looking for people who have these skills who can help.
What have been the major inspirations behind the project?
We’re inspired by the long-running spaces across the UK including the 1 in 12 Club in Bradford, which grew out of the local claimant’s union into an anarchist social centre that’s been hosting gigs since 1981. Then there’s Wharf Chambers in Leeds, which is great example of a UK live music and events venue that’s run by a not-for-profit workers’ collective. Then there are many social centre spaces around Europe that are very established and well-known, from Occii in Amsterdam to Kopi in Berlin and Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen. We’re inspired by any spaces run on the principles of mutual aid and cooperation that work hard to make everyone feel welcome. In the USA there are many not-for-profit punk-run venues and DIY spaces like 924 Gilman Street in San Francisco or The Flywheel in Massachussetts.
What’s the future for DIY Space For London?
The future is all about raising enough cash to secure a long rental lease on a suitable building in London in 2014, and then getting as many folks involved who have skills from carpentry to plumbing on board to make it clean, safe and accessible. We can’t wait for the opening party!