Rain was closing in as the group gathered in Castle Park, just off Bristol Bridge on a grey Friday afternoon. Immediately recognisable by their red t-shirts and tabards, these are members of ACORN Bristol.
The largest branch of the nationwide mass membership community union, for 7 years ACORN Bristol has been actively preventing evictions, challenging landlords, managers and agents, and earlier this year even protesting the Policing Bill.
The group of 20 had mobilised at short notice last Friday (November 12) following a request from ACORN Leeds, where two members, Aleks and Arkadiusz, face eviction from their home of 13 years after their landlord defaulted on his mortgage.
ACORN Bristol member and press liaison for the action, Nia explained that the group had been motivated to take action by a sense of injustice at the situation faced by Aleks and Arkadiusz.
‘It’s not their fault at all, they haven’t done anything wrong, they’ve been great tenants and lived there for many years and through no fault of their own the landlord has defaulted and then HSBC is suddenly trying to rush through this eviction.’
ACORN Leeds took action on Friday against the landlord and HSBC, who own the mortgage. The target of the Bristol group was TLT Solicitors, who are processing the eviction on behalf of HSBC and who have offices in Bristol.
Nia said that the aim of the action is ‘to speak to somebody in charge to discuss the case with them. Ideally I think they would refuse to work on the case, but that might be wishful thinking.’
The plan for the action was to march into the offices of TLT at Redcliffe One, the hulking tower block just south of Bristol Bridge, and speak with a senior member of staff.
The protesters carried four demands written by Aleks and Arkadiusz to be read out. The demands are: to withdraw the eviction notice for at least one year; to carry out maintenance on the property, which has been neglected by the landlord; to provide good references; and for HSBC to give them £1000 to cover moving costs.
Following a group agreement to wear masks throughout the action, and a brief discussion on what to do if security personnel lock the doors against them, the protesters set off across the river, arriving at 3.40pm to thankfully unlocked doors and slightly bemused security.
ACORN Bristol are used to marching on landlord’s offices, not tower blocks with electric barricades and security staff, and protesters were at first fazed by having to deal with front desk staff.
However, once they established who they are and who they wanted to speak to, the group settled in.
Fifteen minutes later and with no sign of anyone from TLT appearing, the protesters increased the pressure of their action by calling senior members in the TLT office using numbers they had found online.
The lobby soon felt like an office as phone conversations echoed around the walls and protesters passed notes to one another carrying names, addresses and case numbers.
Inside the lobby and busy on the phones was Doug, an ACORN member. He said that he feels a personal affinity with the couple in Leeds since they are Polish, as was his grandfather.
Doug has been involved with ACORN for six months now and says he was inspired to join because: ‘ACORN wins, ACORN gets results, ACORN stops people getting evicted, stops people becoming homeless.’
‘When you can see a group that’s achieving thing’s like that, helping people like that, actually making a real difference, then it’s really inspiring and makes you want to join.’
Such confidence was misplaced on Friday as after a further ten minutes in the lobby it became clear that no one from TLT was going to come and speak with the group.
A collective decision was made to end the action, with a brief photo opportunity before the protesters left Redcliffe One, back across the bridge and to Castle Park where they began.
The sky was dark and rain was falling as the protesters gathered for a debrief. Spirits were not dampened, however, as they agreed that they had achieved their aim of showing solidarity with Aleks and Arkadiusz, and sending a message to TLT that they are known.
The entire action had been conducted with little fanfare. Save the chanting during the photo opportunity, there was nothing performative. Instead, the protesters carried an air of simple determination to arrive and get the job done.
The red shirts and tabards came off and the flags were rolled away. One by one the protesters drifted off, blending seamlessly into the passing crowds of commuters.