The following text was written in 2002 by then participants and co-founders of the LARC project. It’s a useful if dated introduction to the early history of and reasons for starting the London Action Resource Centre project.
A brief history: when did the project start and why?
LARC was conceived as an idea by a group of friends over three years ago. Most of us had a history of involvement in direct action from the anti-roads movement, through Reclaim the Streets, to the Carnival against Capitalism June 18th 1999 and we had come to feel that the one-off spectacular actions weren’t enough to build the ‘creative alternatives’ we often talked about in our agit-prop. Along side this we were increasingly fed-up with relying on meeting in, or being chucked out from, rooms in pubs or community centres and having our offices in someones spare room.
Many of us also had a history of squatting, both for social centres and to solve our own housing needs, and as the police repression following demonstrations escalated and squatting became increasingly difficult, we wanted to create a safe space and resource for London’s direct action groups.
Because of London’s size, we’ve always faced the problems of having a social movement that is very dispersed. Therefore we hoped that LARC could go beyond simply being a building with resources, to being a catalyst for the different direct action groups in London to meet face to face, to discuss ideas and strategies together and to build up new affinity networks. It was (and still is) our aim that LARC would contribute to strengthening Londons and UKs direct action networks.
As LARC is legally owned and seen as ‘respectable’ (or at least harder to evict), one aim is also that it will work as a gateway for people into direct action politics.
What has happened since the building was bought?
The ground floor and basement of LARC has been in use for banner/prop making, storage, meetings, the occasional party and in the run up to the Mayday demos and DSEi over the last three years.
When the LARC building was bought in the autumn of 1999, we naively thought we’d have the whole building up and running in a few months. Then the rain started to pour into the building. Three years down the line and we have had to tear out old plaster, rebuild walls and ceilings, plumb in a disabled toilet, change the doors, lower the floor in the mezzanine, plaster, paint, sand and cement to name a few. We’ve had to get builders in to do the main rebuilding work we didn’t have the skills to do, and an architect to advise us – the rest we’ve done ourselves with the help of friends.
Needless to say it hasn’t always been very fascinating for a bunch of ‘anarchos’ to deal with the bureaucracy of ‘normal society’. One of the more frustrating points was that we were unable to begin setting up the office and the library until recently because of disagreements with the council building control. We are also a group of people who are used to working on short term goals (like a sexy day of action), and at times it has been difficult to keep the enthusiasm on top. Several of the initiators have moved on to other good projects, moved to other cities and so on. So LARC is facing the same problem as everywhere else – too few people trying to do too much.
How’s LARC run?
Three years ago we set up a temporary (or so we thought), admin group which has been meeting weekly to deal with all aspects of the building work, the legal structures, the political structures, tidying and cleaning, opening and closing, film nights, bookings and outreach. We were lucky enough to blag the money for the building, and have no mortgage to a bank, but we still need to fundraise to pay the incoming bills.
In recent months the admin group has diversified into practical workgroups such as: office, finance/fundraising, building maintenance, roof garden, library and events/outreach, which are open to all user of the building. The main decisions regarding LARC are taken at monthly meetings with all the regular user groups of the building invited (or delegates from groups using the building). Legally LARC is a non-profit making company, collectively owned for the use of direct action groups working on projects for radical social change. Within this shared framework all the users of the building can contribute to shaping the future of the LARC project.
After three years we are in fact back to the beginning of the project, and it feels exciting and daunting at the same time. The building is increasingly used for meetings, talks, yoga, self-defence, film screenings, womenzone, kids days, and banner/prop making for a variety of autonomous actions. It still has the capacity to room a lot more activities though, and we hope it will become even busier in the coming months and years. More generally, we hope that LARC proves to be what it was intended to be: a useful resource in the growing struggle against capitalism, centralised power, environmental destruction and war; and a shared tool on the way to creating a truly free and ecological community