A collective of artists are squatting a vacant building in Thornton Heath, with plans to turn it into a community hub.

Julian King, a 44-year-old Croydon filmmaker, began occupying Ambassador House, a nine-floor office block, in July this year along with four other former Croydon College art students.

The building had been empty since 2012, when it was bought by Red Wing Property Holdings Ltd.

The collective, named CR7, are working to transform the space into a multi-functioning community centre and hub for local creatives.

CR7 claim they are operating a guardianship, occupying the building legally by ensuring it is maintained and kept secure.

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Ambassador House

Mr King, from Croydon, said: “We want to turn the building into a hub where artists and other community organisations can dedicate part of their business or time to the community.

“There’s a large population of youths around the borough who don’t have anywhere to go.

“In the last ten years, youth clubs have been shutting. There’s been a lack of input into our young population in the borough and an emphasis on gentrification.

“Most of us are longstanding Croydon residents, and that’s why we’re highly passionate about this.

“We’ve seen the transformation over the last decade and been directly or indirectly affected by the changes.”

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Transformed workspace

After encountering financial difficulties in 2014, Mr King became homeless.

Since then, he has stayed at friends’ houses or in squats.

Along with four others, he entered Ambassador house through an open window three months ago.

CR7 have already taken steps to improve the building, repairing damage caused by trespassers and setting up gas and electricity accounts.

A floor has been turned into an artistic workspace, divided into studios and a gallery.

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Squatters can legally occupy a non-residential building, provided they entered without causing damage and maintain the property during their stay.

However, once aware of their presence, the property owner can apply to a county court for a removal order which, if granted, makes continued occupation illegal. 

Red Wing Property Holdings Ltd became aware of CR7’s presence a month after their arrival.

Their initial application for a removal order was refused because it contained errors.

The property company has resubmitted its claim, but Mr King hopes an agreement can be reached outside the courts.

He added: “We’re working to establish a dialogue with the landlords and the council.

“We want to have a face to face open discussion with them.

“We can discuss the benefits to people all round, because there are many community groups crying out to use the space.”