Hulme squatters caught up in a drugs controversy defended themselves yesterday, emphasising that they create a positive environment aimed at helping people.
MM spoke exclusively on Friday to two of the squatters, known as 'Ed' and 'Al', who originally claimed that drugs were a problem.
However fellow residents of the Hope Inn, on Chester Road, passionately defended their cause and stressed that they work hard to operate a no-drugs policy.
Rufus Stewart, 32, said: “We work hard to get people away from drugs. I even have an issue with people coming here and drinking beer. I am a recovering alcoholic so it is stressful seeing people drinking – it’s not what we’re about.”
The group currently occupying the pub are not breaking the law as they entered the derelict premises through an already broken window.
Rufus is clear that the view of squats being a haven for drink and drugs is not what the Hope Inn stands for, but instead they hope to provide somewhere for youths with nowhere to go.
He said: “Some [who are here] are not getting on with their parents and this is somewhere they can go, where they can come. It means they do not have to make a tough and sometimes unfair choice between which parents they stay with.”
He added: “It is also somewhere that shows them life is not all about drugs.”
Caroline O’Sullivan, mother of ‘Al’, the girl interviewed by MM, explained that she was not aware her daughter was living in a squat, but believed she was living with her father.
She said: “Al did tell me she knew squatters but I can’t believe she is actually doing it. She is only 17 and I do not believe she is involved in drugs at all.”
DEBATE: 'Ed' and 'Al' sparked debate with their comments on Friday, but were keen to stress the Hulme community's support for them
Another squatter, who gave his name as Dot, 28, wants to change the public perception about squatters and drugs by highlighting what they have to offer at the Hope Inn.
He said: “We are talking to paramedics about doing first aid workshops and musicians and DJs to do music groups and sessions. We want it to be a positive thing.
“The aim is to create something away from drugs, crime and anti-social behaviour for people to be involved in.”
Police in the UK do not have to any powers to remove squatters from premises without a court order.
Rufus and Dot, who say they have been squatting for most of their lives, vehemently defended their right to squat in unused or derelict buildings.
Rufus said: “There are empty buildings and they should be utilised. I can’t believe that the government don’t provide for that.”
Dot agreed: “I believe it is the right thing to do in the society we live in where these buildings lie empty.”
Rufus also explained that there are divisions among squatters:
“There are two groups amongst the squatting community – some that are reformists and some that are radicalists.
“The radicalists want to forget all of the rules and work outside of the framework. I am a reformist myself.
“I believe we should work within the current system to get change. I acknowledge the system but do not agree with all of it at the moment.”
'Ed', who sparked the debate with comments he gave to MM last week, was keen to underline the positives that the squatters were involved with.
He said: "I believe if you ask most people in Hulme about us, the majority support what we do."
Squatters have also taken over the Castlefield Visitors Centre.
However, a volunteer said they were not prepared to comment until all members of the group had been consulted, but were happy to talk in the future.