2014: Stabilising

With much of 2013 given over to rebuilding the downstairs shop, 2014 saw Haven Press and the Anarchist Federation move into Freedom offices, while slow work went on fixing up bits and pieces which hadn’t been dealt with in the main surge of enthusiasm which saw so much of the damage cleaned up, walls repainted, electrics fixed and the like. But cash was tight, as both legacy money from years gone by had been used up, and donations used on things like the absurdly expensive custom windows required to replace the ones ruined in the fires.

Even with income from the new tenants, it was obvious that something would have to give, and in March the Collective was forced to announce the upcoming closure of the monthly newspaper, moving much of its content online while keeping a smaller freesheet going in its place. The statement read as follows:

Since Freedom: A Journal of Anarchist Socialism first appeared in 1886 it has been in the form of a newspaper to be sold. Now the Freedom Collective has decided that we shall move content online accompanied by a freesheet after publication of the upcoming second issue of 2014.

We have come to realise that a sold hardcopy newspaper is no longer a viable means of promoting the anarchist message. Despite a huge publicity boost to Freedom following the firebomb attack last year (shop sales rose 50%) there has not been a corresponding increase in distribution of thepaper. Only 29 shops, social centres and individuals now sell it and the number of paying subscribers has fallen to 225.

As a result annual losses now amount to £3,500, an unsustainable level for our shoestring budget.

Readers will have noticed that the paper has struggled to come out on time for some while. An underlying problem has been a lack of capacity to sustain it. We had hoped that Freedom would be adopted as THE paper of the anarchist movement. Despite a great deal of goodwill from anarchist groups and individuals over the years, sadly this has not been the case.

Although Freedom Press has changed from a political group with a particular point of view to a resource for anarchism as a whole, we have not managed to shake the legacy of the past and get different groups to back it as a collective project. We hope an online version and freesheet will make that possible.

Subscribers will be offered a refund or book in lieu but we are happy to accept donations towards the costs of the new project.

Charlotte Dingle will remain as editor and of course the shop, publishing and book distribution will continue as normal. As will the use of Angel Alley for meetings, events, offices, postal address and drop-in protest advice.

The print version could not have continues so long without the generosity of Aldgate Press, currently amounting to a subsidy of nearly £10,000 a year. They have very kindly agreed to print a regular freesheet/news compilation to enable us to keep in touch with our readers who don’t have the internet, and a special final edition, which will be released for the London Anarchist Bookfair in October.

Without that cost, and with extra income from Haven and the AF, Freedom was able to slow losses to a minimum, covering rates, fire safety improvement costs, utilities and the like. Major works or big projects however were unlikely. and the year saw the Press largely concentrating on balancing the books.

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2013: Firebombs and new starts

On Friday February 1 2013, someone tried to burn Freedom down. Lifting up a shutter, they broke a window and poured a flammable liquid through before setting it on fire.

Although there were no injuries, hundreds of books were destroyed. Electrics were melted, the ceiling wrecked, the windows all but destroyed, shelving went up in smoke and firefighters arrived only minutes before the offices above would have caught fire, all but guaranteeing the destruction of the rest of the building. The Press archive, kept so historians could have an easily accessible resource, was singed and soaked and barely survived.

Freedom, which had run out of insurance only a week before, has been left with a bill running into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Theories abound as to who did it, with many blaming the far-right – the Press was attacked twice in the 1990s by grumpy skinheads – but with police taking away CCTV recordings and saying little since then supporters can do little more than speculate.

The real story isn’t the fire or the culprits, however, it’s the response.

The news broke on social networks at around midday. Within hours hundreds of people had pushed the news on and the phones of Freedom collective members began to ring off the hook. A callout for help was quickly prepared which also went viral and mainstream press sources began to pick up on the story, ensuring it would go well beyond anarchist circles.

The next day, Angel Alley filled with more people than it had ever seen before from across the left of the political spectrum. So many we could barely fit, hauling the books out, cleaning them, cleaning shelves, washing walls, sorting what could be saved, painting and getting in each others’ way. Then, each day afterwards, more people came to keep the work going. Collective members who knew what needed doing gave volunteers a steer and left everyone to organise themselves.

On Monday the bookshop reopened in a limited sort of way. By the following Friday it was repainted and the books had all been cleaned and sorted. And now a collection of skilled volunteers are going over what needs to be done to make the bookshop better than it was before.

Online, hundreds of solidarity messages came through from all over the world, alongside promises of donations, fundraising events and other gestures of support, including a book of poetry which has had over 350 submissions at the time of writing and two separate music albums from Scribbo and Iron Column Records.

In the end something like £13,000 was raised, allowing the Press not only to rebuild and re-open the bookshop on the ground floor but to fix up the windows, redo the electrics, and even keep the Freedom Press magazine in print throughout, though it sadly later closed as a regular paid-for publication in October 2014.