Photo gallery: Remembering 30 years since the end of the Argyle Street Alternative Republic
- Credit: ARCHANT
Thirty years ago today the dream of the Argyle Street Alternative Republic came to an end. Emma Knights reports on a squatters community that made a city street their home for five years.
What a difference 30 years makes. Today's peaceful street scene at Norwich's Argyle Street is a world away from the striking images that document the end of a long-standing community of squatters on February 20 1985.
'End of the Road: Argyle Street bites the dust' was the front page of that day's Eastern Evening News, with a previous edition's headline declaring it the 'Death of a Dream.'
It was the final moments of a story described by some as a journey from a dream cooperative to a ghetto.
Argyle Street became one of Britain's longest-running squats, but it could have easily been a very different story as originally the University of East Anglia had planned to buy the terraces from Norwich City Council to create student homes.
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It was when these plans fell through the squatter community moved in. December 6 1979 saw the first squatters set up home and the Argyle Street Alternative Republic was born.
It became a place of shared living and communal spirit where lamp posts were decorated as giraffes and pavements were decorated with rainbows and peace signs.
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The squatters formed a co-operative and applied for a grant from the government-funded Housing Corporation. The co-operative's high point came in 1981 when it was awarded £1 million for an ambitious renovation scheme.
But the ambitions were shattered when the Department of the Environment blocked the city council's plan to sell or lease the houses to the community. Left without necessary resources, the council decided to demolish and redevelop the area.
On February 20 1985 the alternative society was broken up and the demolition team moved in.
Today it is a quiet street with a mix of council and private-owned properties.
However at one end 20 homes stand boarded up and empty - the risk of subsidence led to the council moving out tenants in 2009 and the 20 homes could be demolished later this year. On one of the walls is a plaque - a final remnant of the alternative republic's era - and Eamonn Burgess, a former alternative republic resident, is determined it will survive a second visit from a demolition team. He said: 'I am kind of the plaque's custodian, I have got an eye on it. It is a part of the past and it's the only part of Argyle Street [Alternative Republic] left.'
Mr Burgess was part of the Argyle Street Alternative Republic from the beginning, and remembers two very different eras.
Mr Burgess, now 57, said: 'I moved in on the first night and although I was there on the last night I had actually moved into what they called a council cluster unit in West Earlham by that time.
'For the first three years Argyle Street was the most powerful, fantastic experience anyone could ever wish for; after that it turned for the worse.'
The turning point came when the Department of the Environment blocked Norwich City Council's plans to sell or lease the houses to the cooperative in 1982.
'The council could no longer allow us to live there under licence. Once you lose security of tenure you lose people that want to invest their own blood, sweat and tears into the roots of the community.
'The best ones moved out first, taking security and stability with them.'
He said he stayed until mid 1984, and said it was 'stubbornness and optimism' that kept him there.
'I hoped we could revive the spirit of collective action and negotiation,' he said.
'I did not want to make it easy on those who destroyed our home.'
Mr Burgess now lives in Normandie Tower and works for St Martins Housing Trust.
'Since Argyle Street I have always worked in special needs housing to this very day. The street taught me to do that,' he said.
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