The Bank of Ideas occupies UBS offices over Christmas


Protestors part of the Occupy movement will remain in the derelict London UBS offices over Christmas in protest to current economic issues.


By Lizzie Dearden

On Christmas day, when London grinds to a halt and businesses shut their doors, one bank will still be open.

But don’t go there expecting to pay in a cheque – it’s The Bank of Ideas.

The ‘bank’, the latest site in the Occupy movement, is a derelict office block owned by UBS that was taken over by protesters in November in what they call ‘a public repossession’.

The Swiss banking giant took legal action to remove them but on December 19 a judge ruled they could stay into the New Year.

The verdict came on the one month anniversary of The Bank of Ideas, which was opened after a small group of activists from the St Paul’s Cathedral and Finsbury Square camps gained access to the derelict building.

Founding members include former Kingston University student Katalin, who came from Hungary to study Geology.

“We were secretive when started to organise the project,” she said.

“There were problems with anti-social behaviour, drugs and drinking at other camps. There are people who wouldn’t respect this building. They would cause criminal damage.”

But there are no signs of this on my visit. The building on Sun Street, Hackney, is packed with activists, students, families and interested passer-bys.

The huge office block has been transformed in to a variety of spaces, including a lecture hall, art gallery, meeting room and even a press office.

Signs on the walls ban the use of drugs, drinking or smoking and all visitors must sign in at reception.

Another founding member, Nathan, says they want the public to feel welcome at The Bank of Ideas.

He said: “We want people to see this as their own space to use for groups and projects that lost out in the cuts.”

Organisations including youth groups and a Shiatsu club have signed up to use the building.

But founders intend its main function to be a hub of discussion, where talks, lectures, meetings and performances can be held to create alternative solutions to the global financial crisis.

This is one of the core principles of the global Occupy movement, which started in New York in September.

The movement is protesting against growing disparity in wealth, perceived corporate influence on government and the lack of punishment for bankers behind the crisis.

It sparked hundreds of similar protests around the world and there are now more than 1,000 cities with occupations, including Birmingham, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

“I do think there is a real potential for a major cultural and political shift in the way things work,” says organiser Mark Weaver.

“Everybody knows what the problems are and I think everyone knows that the solution is people coming together, communicating with one another, educating themselves and coming up with a strategy to change things.”

One of the strategies discussed at The Bank of Ideas is the Robin Hood Tax; a small tax on financial transactions that would use a tiny percentage to generate revenue for governments.

Simon Chouffot, of The Robin Hood Tax Campaign, said the Occupy movement is helping to generate discussion about the tax, which has spread to the European Union.

He said: “It’s helped make public a really important debate about the kind of financial sector we have and the kind of society we want to live in.”

Other visitors to The Bank of Ideas also seem supportive of its work.

Sarah, visiting from Oval, said: “I think the Occupy movement has been a really inspiring mobilisation of all kinds of people to show that an alternative is possible.”

But the project’s days may be numbered. UBS won a possession order on the property, granting them the right to evict the protesters.


After the hearing on December 19, a UBS spokesperson said: “We take note of the decision of the court today which we are considering with our legal advisers.”


An appeal against the possession order will be heard around January 11.

Nathan is confident that the Occupy movement will not be stopped, even if legal action against The Bank of Ideas and other camps succeeds.

He said: “You can move it and move it but you can’t stop it.

“It’s an idea, it’s planted now. You shift these people out and they’ll just pop up somewhere else.”


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