Chapter 4 - Occupations

1 The Beginning

1.1 Why Occupy

In the UK, some occupations have come out of student union meetings, but most have been started by small groups of people aiming to ‘escalate’ struggles they are part of. Aims normally range from putting direct pressure on university management, to ‘creating a space’ where radical ideas can be discussed. Occupations have been especially effective at providing a base to organise from. This guide focusses on that type of occupation – but there others. For example in 2009 students from Zagreb, Croatia, wrote ‘The Occupation Cookbook’ – which describes how they took over their entire faculty and ran it based on principles of direct democracy, open to everyone. Occupations run by the majority of students are also a good tactic, and that guide is worth reading as well as this one. Bear in mind that while occupations have been used to win demands, this needs a LOT of perseverance and won’t happen by just taking a lecture hall for a few days. For example, the “Free Hetherington” occupation at Glasgow University won some big concessions (including no further cuts to courses and no compulsory redundancies), but only after six months of occupation (see

Before you start picking a location and preparing, try to get some idea of what you want to achieve. If the main thing is to run workshops and events, you will need a big space with good access above all else. If you want to hit the university managers economically and stay as long as possible, then a place that can be well-secured is essential. How long you want to stay is also important to think about. Traditionally the answer to that would be “as long as possible!”, but over the last couple of years people have used a tactic called “shock-upations”, where a building was taken for no more than a few days, then left again. This means less cost to university management and less time to run events, but is also more sustainable and easier to defend.

1.2 Choosing a Location

It is important to choose targets for political effect, but don’t forget to consider access, visibility, and security too.

1.3 Taking the Space

One major mistake in occupations has been this: people take hold of a space but not the doors. This leaves you open to losing access to the space, and having your occupation prematurely closed down. Take the doors, not the space! You can take relatively large spaces with surprisingly few people if you follow this advice. Sometimes student union officers will tell you that taking control of doors causes unneeded arguments with university management. ignore them. Taking doors back later is much more difficult than taking them in the first place (although it can be done.) So once again, take the doors, not the space!

How your occupation begins will depend a lot of things, such as what type of institution you are occupying, how many occupiers you have, and the politics of the student union. At the beginning, try to get as many people there as possible.

Some tasks can be done better from outside of the occupation, especially if you end up in a ‘siege’ situation (ie if uni security won’t let anyone who leaves get back in). Also, some people can’t commit to being in an occupation full time but want to help out in other ways. So if you can, get a group together beforehand that can commit to taking on some of these tasks, for example getting food into the occupation, contacting and answering calls from the media, drumming up support through leafleting and doing stalls.

1.4 On Demands

Occupations may or may not have demands (some of the best have had none, only to say “we are taking this space and using it for what we feel it should be used for.”) It is important that your opening meeting decides on whether there should be demands, and what they should look like.

1.5 Checklist of Things to Bring

2 The Middle

2.1 Internal Politics

It is important that occupations are inclusive, democratic and accessible, but exactly what this means should be decided internally.

2.2 Media

Media can be massively important for any occupation. Doing good media work will allow you to get your story heard, gain support and solidarity, and exert far greater pressure. But you should also be aware that journalists may smear you, and you may have a difficult relationship with the mainstream media. Some occupations just want to be quiet and stealthy, to disrupt the university without creating a media spectacle. Here are a few things you could think about doing:

Be aware though, that journalists are not always your friends. Many occupations will have a “no journalists” policy, and generally it is better if you have as much control over the outgoing media as possible. Be aware that so-called “activist-journalists” can be a total liability if they do not understand the boundaries between being an activist as part of a consensual group and being an observer trying to write a story. Also, student newspapers can really dick on you. Press should be made aware of what is off limits (i.e. meetings or the whole occupation). Three things to remember:

2.3 Security

2.4 Wellbeing

2.5 Occupation as an Open Space

Having your occupation as an open space can be great. If possible, put on public meetings and events. This will help people understand what you are doing, and may attract sympathetic students to join your cause. More people getting involved also reduces the risks faced by the original occupiers. That being said, watch out for tories coming in to cause trouble, and keep all security staff and management out.

Flyer the local area with information about the occupation. Say on the flyers what it is and what it’s about. Getting local support and support from students who don’t personally want to occupy can be crucial to keeping an occupation going.

One good way to help people to support you is to get a phone for the occupation. Put the number on all your flyers, etc, so people who want info or who want to join can contact you. The phone can also be used to send out texts asking for support if there’s an eviction. Big protest camps usuallu also have a separate phone for their media contact so that roles (welcoming, media) can be shared out better.

2.6 Working with Trade Unions

Universities are as much workplaces as they are places of learning. Trade unions active on campus (normally UNISON and UCU, but also sometimes UNITE) will often be sympathetic to occupations and you should get in touch with them. Ask them what you can help them with and they may be able to help you. Occupations also present an opportunity to highlight bad working conditions that often exist on British campuses, where Vice-Chancellors may earn £400,000 a year, while cleaners will work on the minimum wage.

2.7 Supporting Other Occupations

If you’re lucky there will be a whole load of occupations going on at once. Here are some tips on what you can do to support each other, and keep the movement going.

There is legal advice linked to in Appendix B (resources), and various organisations you may find useful are listed in Appendix A (contacts). If you are threatened with eviction the best people to contact for practical advice are the ‘Advisory Service for Squatters’ as they really know what they are doing! They have published a book called the ‘squatters handbook’, which has an excellent section on opposing evictions in court.

Many occupiers are understandably worried about the university claiming legal costs from them, if they attend court or else are named on an injunction. The issue of costs isn’t simple so it is strongly recommended to get advice from people with experience of challenging evictions in court. However, squatters regularly attend court hearings and it’s rare that they have to pay costs - mainly because they need your real name to be able to claim any!

3 The End

3.1 Ending the Occupation

Decide together when to leave. Organise a rally, have a demonstration, make a whole lot of noise. Contact all your supporters and ask them to greet you outside the building when the time comes. If you are being threatened with disciplinary or legal actions people must be allowed to make their own choices on whether they want to stay or leave.

If management take out injunctions on occupiers, do not panic! Contact a good lawyer (if you can find someone who specialises in property law, this is very useful). Often solicitors will be over-cautious (it’s their job). There is normally no need to leave until the bailiffs arrive and manage to gain entry. Police may be on the scene of any eviction. Do everything you can to avoid arrest. Consider leaving as a big group and linking arms to prevent police picking people off. If people do want to get arrested, then this is a personal decision that they must judge themselves.

3.2 Why resist eviction

Resisting eviction will mean you get to keep the space you have occupied longer – if they think you will resist then it takes a lot longer to plan and prepare for an eviction. Just preparing to resist doesn’t mean you will have to – making it clear that you can is often enough to deter bailiffs. Barricades, etc all need to be assessed before an eviction attempt is made, which takes time. That’s not the only reason to resist though, resisting eviction also…

Note that this section is about physically resisting an eviction of an occupation. There are other ways to resist – through the courts, for example. And there’s no harm in retreating to fight again elsewhere! This section does not discuss what is legal or acceptable. The most effective ways to resist eviction are not necessarily the best thing for your campaign, or what you are comfortable with personally.

3.3 How an ordinary eviction happens

A normal eviction roughly follows the pattern below. Not always – sometimes security will just bust in on your first day, sometimes the first eviction attempt will be massive – but on average, this is what happens:

  1. Papers – The university will give you papers, telling you to leave by a certain date or that there is a court date you can attend to defend your right to be there (exactly what they say depends on the legal route the university is taking). There is almost always a chance to go to court either to appeal or to challenge the university’s right to evict you, even if they get an injunction. It’s worth going in order to slow the process down – though sometimes university lawyers will screw up and you will be able to use a technical defence. At the end of any court process, you will be given a date you have to leave by – an eviction can happen any time after this date!
  2. First attempt – Don’t count on it, but the first attempt at eviction probably won’t be all that big, and will usually be on the date you were told to leave by (but once again, don’t count on it). The reason for this is that it is cheaper for bailiffs to turn up with small numbers at a reasonable hour on the off chance that this is enough to make you leave. If they do this, a decent crowd and a bit of resistance from inside should be enough to see them off. If your occupation is very high profile, they may just skip this first attempt entirely and start big….
  3. Second attempt – If you manage to resist the first attempt, the next one will be far greater. For one thing, they will almost certainly come at first light or just before (night-time evictions happen but are a bit of a health and safety nightmare, so it isn’t common). They will come with a well prepared force of bailiffs and police, which will be even harder to resist because your supporters are all asleep and far away. If it doesn’t look like you will be able to stop them getting in, it’s probably best to either escape out the back or let them take you out peacefully. By and large they will just let people walk out if they’ve stopped resisting (once again, don’t count on it!). Getting your stuff back may be a problem, so keep anything expensive/important with you when you go, to make sure it doesn’t get lost or seized by the police. These attempts can happen on any day and at any time – but are more likely to be during week days (weekends can mean overtime pay, and more people around to resist), and as it was said above – tend to not be during evenings and the dead of night.

3.4 What works…

There are three things that will convince the university management not to evict you:

  1. Image – some management teams are afraid that a violent eviction will cause ‘brand damage’ to their university, and will avoid it for this reason. This may help you up to a point, but if your occupation becomes enough of a threat to them, then this concern is unlikely to hold them back. At the end of the day, hurting a few students will not really concern them, and definitely will not bother any bailiffs or police carrying out the eviction
  2. Cost – if it looks like it will cost too much to evict you, then sometimes management will not bother. HOWEVER, once they have committed to an eviction, it isn’t normal for them to pull out even if it will cost lots of money. This is because backing down will make them look weak, and encourage more occupations everywhere. What costing them money does do is make them more likely to accept your demands beforehand, and listen to students more generally, in order to avoid an occupation in the first place. For example, during the road protest movement of the 90’s, corporations and the police would spend millions evicting protest camps, because even if the cost was not worth it in the short term, the danger of backing down was too great. However, the threat of protest camps did scare them away from starting projects in the first place – that was their main effect.
  3. Physical Force – ultimately, it normally comes down to this. Physical force can be passive, like a barricade that is hard to move, or a person chained to something. It can also be active, like a person holding a door shut, or a crowd of angry people stood outside the occupation. All passive barriers can be removed in the end – barricades can be dismantled, and lock-ons cut. HOWEVER, when combined with active resistance, it isn’t always possible to remove them. It’s one thing for a calm bailiff with plenty of time to break down a door, but very different if that bailiff is getting pushed and shouted at by a crowd, or if that bailiff has to worry that someone inside will jab him with a snooker cue. Squatters throughout Europe have successfully used active resistance to defend spaces from the police for long periods of time. Note that with active resistance it isn’t what you actually do that is important – it is what the police think you are prepared to do. If they think that you are prepared to resist vigorously, then they won’t even try to evict without a clear advantage in numbers.

The key to active resistance is time – your barricades and security need to be good enough that people in the occupation will have a chance to get themselves together and start defending before bailiffs/police get through. If the people inside can force the bailiffs to retreat then that’s all well and good, but if not – the key now becomes getting a crowd of people outside. This will make the police less likely to break the law, and they will normally retreat when the crowd outnumbers them. So, the people inside need to hold the bailiffs off long enough to get a crowd of people outside.


3.5 Lock-ons

Lock-ons (where people lock or chain themselves to things) can help resist eviction – for a time – but there are a few things worth noting. First off: they are effective at making the eviction take ages and cost more money, so used at the right place and time they are good. However, there is a lot of bad. For one thing, being in a lock-on is risky – the point of lock-ons is to make it unsafe to move you, but by definition this means you take the risk of them trying anyway and seriously hurting you. So it is EXTREMELY important that anyone in a lock-on has supporters with cameras on them at all times, and that there are clear signs posted up (like ‘if you open this gate the person chained to it will die!’). Some bailiff firms (for example, Constant and Co) will still happily break your legs in order to evict you. The other problem with passive resistance involving people is that it actually blocks people taking active resistance. For example, if there is someone chained to a door of your occupation, the police know they can enter that way safely, without anything getting chucked at them or anyone fighting them – because to do so would endanger the person chained to the door. So in some circumstances, lock-ons can make you easier to evict, rather than harder. Finally, if you are in a lock-on there is no way for you to get away – so if it is breaking the law, you will almost certainly be arrested and prosecuted. The court process may then take away a lot of your time and energy, long after the occupation is over.

That said, here are some tactics that protesters have used in the past:

See “Delia Smith’s Guide to Basic Blockading”, for more information on making these (link in appendix B)

3.6 Know your enemy

There are four groups of people that could be involved in your eviction – Uni Security, Police, Bailiffs, and Vigilantes.

Uni Security




3.7 Barricading

No barricade will last forever on its own – it needs someone to defend it. So, the point of barricades is to buy you time – to wake up and get ready, or to gather a crowd of supporters to help you resist.


Doors opening into the occupied space are the easiest to secure because you can barricade them closed. Unfortunately doors in newer buildings tend to open outwards, which is a pain as you have to secure the door independently of the barricade. Different doors have different types of handles and are thus secured in different ways. Be creative! When you plan your barricading, remember to think about whether each door can be a potential escape route, a covert entry, or a fire escape. Doors which you’ll want to use later need barricades that can be easily dismantled from inside!

Some tips for all kinds of doors …

Here are some examples …


For doors with handles that open outwards, tie one end of a cable lock around the door handle. Tie the other end to a structural support (eg a pillar) or other fixed point. If no structural supports are available, use a piece of furniture or a large block of wood that is bigger than the door frame.


For double doors, shove a broom between the handles! Even better, use a metal bar. Alternatively, tie the handles together. Make it tight – there’s no point if the door can be opened wide enough to cut the rope

For doors with bars (eg fire doors), you can stick a chair between the bars, or tie a cable around the bars as above - so long as there is space between the bars (image source – Occupation: a Do it Yourself Guide)


When doors with bars have no space for a cable, secure a G-clamp to the bar. Loop a cable lock (or rope, or cable tie) through the space created by the clamp. Note that some fire doors can’t be opened from outside anyway, and won’t need barricading at all. (image source – Occupation: a Do it Yourself Guide)

Sliding doors can be blocked from sliding open easily, using a block of wood that’s the right size. Many sliding doors can still be pushed open with force, so think about using other types of barricade too.

Attach bolts to a door so you can get out if needed.

Hinges are strong, so good for quickly securing a door to the frame.

Change the door! If it is too hard to secure a door that opens outwards, just remove and reverse the hinges.

Though it takes time, installing a bar across a door adds a lot of strength AND can be removed easily when leaving.

If nothing else works… Build a giant wall of tat. The combined weight stops the door from opening inwards, and if it’s opened outwards things will fall on whoever is opening it. Keep materials on hand to pile on to doors which bailiffs are trying to open.


Windows are a nightmare to secure – they can be smashed open and the locks are often weak. Ground floor windows are the worst – if you can avoid these or simply isolate them, then you should (eg by securing the door to the room the window is in instead, or securing the stairs to the first floor). Upper-floor windows aren’t safe, though they are much harder for bailiffs to get through. However a serious eviction attempt will have a cherry-picker, and may even have “climb-teams”, so watch out.

The good news about windows is that whoever is evicting you cannot get lots of people through at once, and may be hesitant about breaking them. If you are not in a “siege” situation (eg you aren’t expecting a big eviction attempt), you may be safe to just ignore them, so long as they are kept CLOSED. Windows do gain an occupation a lot as well – visibility, and a way to get supplies and people inside. So there’s something to be said for just accepting the risk.


Roofs are good points for defence (it’s hard to get people down), but are a risk too. Check if any of the roofs around you have access to the occupation. Doors from the roof may need to be secured. Windows next to a lower-level roof are also a risk. The key with a roof is to take it first – and they can be a good look-out point for anyone on night watch if they are safe. The danger from falling is so great (bailiffs and police have been injured by falling through roofs in squat evictions), that just having people up there can be enough to deter an eviction. Climbing teams need to move slowly at heights, so a group of people free to move around and evade them can last as long as someone “locked-on” to a barrel of concrete in this situation. So long as you look dangerous, police and bailiffs will not want to try and get you down from a roof. Especially if there are things up there that could be thrown down – even if you know that they will never be used that way, police don’t!

3.8 The Aftermath

A big mistake is to just assume after an occupation that momentum will keep going and things will keep happening – but it doesn’t. Once there is no longer a central location where people are together a lot and where meetings take place, it takes a lot more work to make anything happen. So have some idea about what you want to do next before you leave.

At the least, you should organise a ‘debrief’ for everyone who was active in the occupation, especially if you got kicked out. This can be used to assess what you did well/badly, but the main purpose is to help people think through their feelings and to get the group together. In the aftermath of a massive effort a lot of people will be burnt out and need support, and if you had a violent eviction some people will be at risk of trauma. Taking care of each other and working out a sustainable pace is vital if you want to carry the energy from your occupation forward to something else.