I did. Ok, but it wasn’t a functioning mental hospital when we moved in there. Still, the stories are there.
Blame the ridiculous London rent prices- the thought of working like a slave only to spend all your pay on rent in the most horrible of places still baffles me. The madhouse was no Buckingham Palace, sure, but for the price we were paying (£300 pcm including bills) and the flexibility of it being an abandoned place so we could do make it our own, it seemed like a good idea. And it was.
Ah yes, pay you ask? Enter the Property Guardian scheme, where companies such as DEX, CAMELOT, and GLOBAL GUARDIANS offer their services to landlords whose property is currently empty, but they want to avoid squatters. I suppose we are the “services” as we are placed into empty offices spaces, empty flats (if you’re lucky!) empty fire stations.. and well, empty mental hospitals. We are officially guardians of the place we are living, and therefore responsible for it while it is still on the market.
At first I was a tad iffy about the whole thing- since at any point the building can be sold and you must find another place to live in. The idea of moving from place to place makes me shiver- but then, thinking about it, I’ve done exactly the same living in “normal” places in London.
Once we got there, everyone started to make an effort into making the place homely and it really showed me a human’s ability to adapt anywhere. My hallway friend and I for example, turned a walk-in medicine cabinet room into our kitchen – and it actually looked killer after a few months. Our washing room? The torture chamber (or in official terms, Sluice Room). I remember breaking down in tears the first night in the madhouse, surrounded by empty medicine boxes, clean syringes and diapers (UNUSED!).
Out of the 40 or so people we had living there (think of it like student halls for adults), we had a few journalists including myself, a few teachers, nurses, musicians, designers, actresses.. The whole thing becomes this community of interesting people, who all have had some crazy times at one point or another. I guess we all kind of belonged there really.
Oh damn, speaking of nuts, the writings on some of the walls were another thing… “I left my heart here, but my soul still remains” took over a whole wall in one of the rooms. Unfortunately, someone painted over it before I could take a picture- which is probably best for everyone involved.
And so this place became my photograph playground. I’ve experimented trying to get the eeriness of the place, but I have also tried to show the normality of it. It happens everywhere- something that can seem so extraordinary – or terrible or messed up – will become your routine, and it will become your home.
If you are really struggling for rent, don’t be scared to check out some of the companies I linked to before. It really is worth it and you can see it as a bit of a “fuck off” to the system!