This week we went to check out the Bank of Ideas, the latest Occupy London space, only a couple blocks over from the Dazed HQ. OLSX activists “repossessed” the abandoned offices of global investment bank UBS three weeks ago and have since transformed it into a thriving creative hub open to the community. Arriving at the bank’s entrance we were looked over by Occupy London’s tranquility team (aka security), who first glanced at their photo cheat sheet of undercover police officers, before OLSX organiser Jan Ostle took us on a tour.
The labyrinthian expanse of rooms includes a new library, empty offices for numerous daily talks and events, live video streaming and TV studio, kitchen, sleeping quarters and child care center. This week the Bank of Ideas basement was the site of a “thank you” gig for Occupy activists, from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Massive attack’s Robert Del Naja and Tim Goldsworthy of UNKLE and LCD Soundsystem fame, who all showed up for a surprise DJ set which will soon be available on Occupation Records. Dazed met up with four of the activists who have been instrumental in running the Bank of Ideas, to ask them what the new space means for Occupy London...
Lindsey Smith, 30, Community Activist
Dazed Digital: Why did you become involved with Occupy London?
Lindsey Smith: I feel like this movement is really important and we’re actually making an impact. I’ve been going on marches with the peace movement for quite a few years and not many people took notice. But now people are starting to get a social conscience - I feel like a change is upon us.
DD: What’s been your role here?
Lindsey Smith: I just finished a postgraduate degree in geochemistry and I’m into community based growing projects - we planted the garden at Finsbury Square, we’ve got garlic, kale, carrots and beans growing so far. Also I’m a medic, so I’ve been going on all the demonstrations and making sure protesters are dealt with. I’m mainly sleeping at Finsbury Square but I satellite between the three camps.
DD: Do you think the Occupy movement is driven by young people?
Lindsey Smith: There are a lot of young people within the movement because of the job situation but I think all ages are part of this. Young people are less fearful than older generations and more free, so they’re more willing to come and camp out. A lot of them aren’t bound to mortgages, bills, rent and stuff like that.
DD: How does the Bank of Ideas build on the ideals of the Occupy movement?
Lindsey Smith: Well, this bank building has been empty for over 10 years now, and by occupying it we’ve turned this into something that’s actually beneficial to the community. We’ve got so many rooms where people have events which are going on all the time. People are coming here to talk about their ideas for solutions to community and environmental problems. We’re gathering ideas that could possibly help us to move forward.
Jan Ostle, 24, Former Chef
Dazded Digital: You’ve been living at the Bank of Ideas since it started, how did you initially get involved with Occupy London?
Jan Ostle: I was a chef, cooking in restaurants in London where they charge £60 for a plate of pasta with some mushroom that grows underground. I got sick of that, there are people in this country living on £57 a week. I was on the train to work and I suddenly thought ‘I can’t do this. I’m just cooking silly food for silly people. And they’re not even that grateful for it.’ Here if you give somebody a plate of rice, they’re like ‘thank you so much!’ It’s changed me being here. It’s so liberating not having to worry about all the crap that comes with having money.
DD: What have been the challenges in running the Bank of Ideas?
Jan Ostle: We’re legally squatting in this building - UBS is trying to get us out on health and safety grounds, but we’ve had our own health and safety experts come in and tell us which places are dangerous and we’ve shut off all the hazardous areas. Also there’s absolutely no drugs, alcohol or smoking in the building - we enforce it as nicely as possible, we don’t do any heavy-handed stuff. All of our decision making is consensus based as well.
DD: What are some of the larger societal changes you’d like to see as a result of the Occupy movement?
Jan Ostle: Most people accept the current situation and don’t question it. They don’t ask ‘why are we allowing this to happen?’ they just say ‘oh this is how we do it’. There needs to be serious regulations on big business and banks. Companies with socially minded policies should be more valued than companies that only value profit. We need to realise that true happiness is actually helping people.
DD: What are you looking for in the immediate future?
Jan Ostle: I’d like a dialogue. It would be great if people actually listened to us instead of treating us like we’re stupid and don’t know what we’re doing. We know what we’re doing and we really care about this.
Francesca Morgante, 23, Charity Intern
Dazed Digital: So what drew you to Occupy London initially?
Francesca Morgante: I was at St Pauls on the first day, and the conversations I was having with people kept drawing me back. Everyone was open and willing to talk about important things without being scared. Also Occupy London has a very peaceful vibe to it, it’s different from other protests I’ve been to in the past year. There’s a sense of having learned from the mistakes made by protesters and the police.
DD: Do you think the Bank of Ideas is helping OLSX evolve?
Francesca Morgante: I was involved with the Information tent and the tranquillity team at Finsbury Square and I came over to the Bank of Ideas when it was set up. This take over is symbolic but also it’s almost winter - we need a place where people can come together inside and continue the discussions started by the Tent City University.
DD: Occupy protesters have such varied demands, what unites the movement and how will you draw new supporters?
Francesca Morgante: There’s a very idealistic side to the Occupy movement because it began with the visionaries. As that spreads, people start believing they can actually achieve changes. Just the fact that people are asking why we’re occupying is already a start. Even if they think we’re naïve, at least something is triggered in them.
Also it’s really exciting that because of technology, this movement is happening all over the world simultaneously. I hope more and more people join and hear about it, so changes can happen. Maybe not in our lifetime, but at least we’ve contributed to it.
Pedro, 34, Former Business Owner
Dazed Digital: Why did you decide to join Occupy London?
Pedro: I’ve been living at the St Paul’s camp since it started. I used to have my own business in Ireland, and then it went bankrupt, like many there. I think this generation is reaching a point where we’ve had enough. We’re asking ourselves, ‘we didn’t create this mess, so why do we have to pay the price?’
DD: What do you feel the Occupy movement is working towards?
Pedro: A political system that gives a voice to peoples needs. We aren’t going to be happy until we reach the point where we feel we’re really being represented. I think most people carry on with their lives, go to work, go home and enjoy their family, but in the end they know there’s something really wrong with the way things are.
DD: What would you tell people that support OLSX but might not be able to come and join you?
Pedro: One of the main goals is to help people understand that this isn’t just a few people protesting, it’s a global movement. Each group has their own way of doing things, but at the end of the day, Wall Street and St Paul’s are part of one huge movement trying for something new. Everyone can have input, if you have a good idea, let us know, it doesn’t matter where you are!
DD: What keeps you and everyone else here at Occupy London motivated?
Pedro: I’ve never seen so much excitement - people are working 24/7 for this cause and for no money. It’s very powerful, we’re stronger than those guys because they just work for money, but we work for something a lot greater than that. This is about our beliefs, which are worth a billion times more. That’s why we’ll be unstoppable.
Photography by Alec McLeish
Follow Karen Orton on Twitter here @AaronKorton