Squatters have taken over a 300 year old mansion in Hackney and today insisted they brought “numerous benefits” to the building.
The Grade II-listed property at 195 Mare Street was empty for several years, but was recently sold to a developer.
But about 10 squatters have moved in, saying they are fixing it up and posting a note to the owner in a window, stating: “We are very willing to negotiate an arrangement for our mutual benefit.
“There are numerous benefits for having squatters in a disused building, we can provide/assist in upkeep, ensure security of the building and provide monetary benefits.”
Neighbours, however, hit out at how easy it had been for the squatters to take over the “prime location”.
Film maker Dave Aspinall, 34, said: “I’m paying £1,900 a month for a one-bed flat so it’s annoying and unfair when you see others living for free.”
Michelle Watkins, 36, who runs a pop-up shop, added: “We all work really hard. It’s not right – this is a prime location. The rent for my three-bed flat which I share is £2,400 a month.”
An architect, 32, who would only identify himself as Charlie, criticised the speed with which the squatters moved in, adding: “It literally happened as soon as it changed hands. As soon as the security guards left they were in. They have not given the developer a chance.”
The property, which was built in 1699, was a family home for 150 years before being transformed into the Elizabeth Fry Institute for the Reformation of Women Prisoners in 1860 which it remained until 1913, a period commemorated by a plaque on the gatepost.
It then became a working men’s club, the Lansdowne Liberal and Radical Club – latterly the New Lansdowne Social Club – which closed down in 2003.
The squatters said they have been repairing the property, tidying the garden and sorting out the electricity and plumbing.
They also held a public meeting to inform people of their plans.
One of the organisers Max, 23, originally from south-west London, said their goals were to see the building used – rather than lying empty – as a place to benefit the local community and protest against the new anti-squatting legislation.
He told the Standard: “It’s a beautiful building and we have done a lot of research into it over the years.
“The land is probably worth more than the building… there is insurmountable damage and the costs to repair it would be a lot greater so the developer is waiting for it to fall down. We have not seen him, he has not been round.
“If they wanted to fix it up and open it to the community then we would have no problem with that – it’s the wasting we have a big issue with.”
Residential squatting was criminalised last September, but the law does not currently apply to commercial buildings like Mare Street, although 24 MPs backed an early day motion to change this in the last parliamentary session.
Ownership of the building has passed from one developer to another and in 2006, permission was granted, although never taken up, to convert it into a restaurant and luxury flats.
In 2009, squatters moved in and fixed the property up, but they were evicted a year later when it was repossessed.
Currell Commercial, which recently sold the site, declined to reveal the name of its client and the Land Registry is yet to be updated.