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Mixed reception for Hampstead High Street squatters in old Maison Blanc coffee shop but they insist: We’re lovely

PUBLISHED: 15:59 11 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:01 11 June 2018

The old Maison Blanc in Hampstead High Street is being squatted. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

The old Maison Blanc in Hampstead High Street is being squatted. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

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A group of “lovely squatters” who set up home in an abandoned bakery in Hampstead High Street two weeks ago are getting a mixed reception.

A notice in the window of the old Maison Blanc in Hampstead High Street, which is being occupied by homeless people. Picture: Lucas CumiskeyA notice in the window of the old Maison Blanc in Hampstead High Street, which is being occupied by homeless people. Picture: Lucas Cumiskey

The community of homeless people is occupying the old Maison Blanc coffee shop, which is valued at more that £2million and has lain empty for nearly two years.

There is a core group of 10 people living at 76 Hampstead High Street but the headcount fluctuates up to 15 as the squatters claim to put up homeless people from all over Camden.

“This is a commercial building that has just been sitting here for nearly two years. I would rather sleep inside than over there in a doorway,” said JJ, who preferred not to give his full name.

“We’re just saying hello to everyone, being nice and showing people that squatters aren’t horrible. It’s just homeless people.”

JJ, 23, has been homeless for five years and told has lived in 11 different squats in the past year and a half.

He told the Ham&High he considers himself to be a community activist, and was recently involved in the “Save Swiss Cottage” campaign.

Penny, who is also living at number 76, said: “We’re the lovely squatters. The place we just left in Swiss cottage was actually called the lovely squat.”

But she added: “In all honesty this is Hampstead High Street, so we are aware that opinion will be split down the middle.”

They added adjacent businesses such as the King William IV pub, La Crêperie de Hampstead and The Coffee Cup had given them food, drink and access to a kettle for hot water.

But not everyone is sold on the new neighbours.

A local businesswoman, who said she’d been based in the area for 40 years but preferred not to give her name, said: “It is not good for business that they have come into the area. It should not have been left unattended for so long.

“The problem is people can’t afford the rents any more.”

A man who has lived in Hampstead for 36 years and also withheld his name said: “My wife walks past here quite often and she is quite concerned.

“There are a lot of people out quite late at night.

“There are quite a few empty units in Hampstead High Street. It’s a shame.“

Another woman, who asked to remain anonymous too, said: “They might be taking other people’s gas and electricity so other businesses could be footing the bill.”

But she also said: “I don’t think that landlords should not have unnecessarily empty buildings with the housing shortage.”

A sign in the window reads: “If you want to get us out you will have to issue a claim for possession in the County Court or the High Court.”

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