Local community campaigners in the Hyde Park district in Leeds recently occupied the site of a school building in an attempt to save it for their use.
The school, Royal Park Primary, was closed five years ago against the will of a popular local campaign. There were two previous attempts by the local authority to close the school which were defeated by parents, school workers and local activists. During the campaign, in one of the most deprived areas in the city, the campaigners were able to demonstrate the building was extensively used by the local community including for English language classes for Asian women.
When the axe finally fell the council promised that the building would be maintained for community use. But they have failed to live up to this promise, leaving the building to fall into disrepair.
Fed up with waiting for the council and worried at the worsening state of the building, members of the community gained access to the school, started an occupation and began to carry out their own repair work. Broken windows were replaced, rubbish cleared. A huge banner was hung outside the building reading: “Royal Park School Reclaimed”.
As we go to press the occupiers are due for eviction. Not before a winter fair was held in the grounds attended by hundreds of local people.
The main purpose of the occupation seems to have been to put pressure on the council to repair and reopen the building and to ensure that it really is preserved for community use.
The campaigners have also helped to ensure that plans to change another old school building in the area (Leeds Girls High) into apartments were withdrawn.
The occupation has proven hugely popular and been a real boost to the local area. The education authority recently published plans to close the one remaining high school in this area and the local NUT branch are already discussing with the Royal Park occupiers a community and staff campaign to keep it open. The willingness of these campaigners to take direct action has transformed overnight the confidence of a much wider layer of people in their ability to defend local services against attacks.