Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) has just moved its office. Although the distance from the old to the new office is a mere 200 yards, and the move itself went smoothly, the process has still been a difficult one, physically and emotionally.
Why? Well for starters we had been in our office at 11 Goodwin Street, Finsbury Park, for a quarter of a century – that’s a long time in a world of short leases, changing rent demands and new organisational needs. But even more, we were attached to Goodwin Street.
Goodwin Street memories
The building has had a long connection with the peace movement. Owned by Peace News Trustees, over the years it been home to dozens of organisations, including Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, support organisations for Palestinians, Oromos and Kurds, local neighbourhood groups – even an organisation to aid street drinkers.
Veteran peacenik, Albert Beale recalls the distinctive smell of the printing presses that once filled the ground floor. I am much more likely to remember the smell of burnt toast that sometimes graced CAAT communal lunchtimes. Others reminisce about the mixture of tobacco smoke and rotting compost that lingered over the small outdoor area at the back of the building, which defied all attempts to turn it into a neatly manicured garden.
With its three stories linked by narrow corridors and stairways, Goodwin Street could never be described as easily accessible but it was adaptable to an astonishing degree. In the 1990s, a clever architecture volunteer had constructed a series of benches attached to the walls which served as desks, making good use of the narrow ground floor and cramped first floor office. The walls were covered with shelves, housing an ever-expanding library and boxes of publications and office supplies. In the hallway was an ingenious system of pulleys and hangers that allowed bikes to be hauled upwards (just) above the tallest visitors.
Cracks in the façade
So why move now? CAAT has grown over the years. When the numbers outgrew the space on the ground floor, we created another office on the first floor. Today we have eight permanent staff (albeit most part-time) and dozens of volunteers. The Goodwin Street office could be a tight fit – volunteer days had to be rationed to available desks and computers. Further expansion would mean using another room in the building – and that would not have aided effective office functioning.
But if space was a manageable problem, the condition of the building was not. 11 Goodwin Street was an old building which had not been treated well by history. It stood alone, bereft of the neighbouring buildings that once stood on either side. Now there was a parking lot on the right side and struts holding it up on the left. Love it as we might, we couldn’t stop the cracks that were opening in the brickwork or the damp that infiltrated the plaster. We could install new windows to keep out the bitter cold of winter but we couldn’t repair the damaged fabric of the building.
Making the move
Finsbury Park had long been considered a rough and ready area but with its streets of Victorian housing and excellent transport connections it was rapidly becoming both gentrified and desired. In 2010 we discovered that Islington Council had approved two twenty-story tower blocks to be built on land on and around Finsbury Park station. One tower block would be directly contingent to our building.
We dreaded the mess and disruption but even more the likely effects – would Goodwin Street even survive the upheaval? The building plans and the current state of the building forced us to think of the future – and we reluctantly agreed that it would not lie in Goodwin Street.
So, after a long and exhausting search for new premises, we have ended up just around the corner in an office and building described as “boring but perfect”. The new office is larger and lighter. It has floors and ceilings that are level and windows that are flush. It has a small kitchenette and a proper meeting room.
And it also has much of Goodwin Street in it. We have recycled some of the desks and benches, tables and chairs, and much of the shelving. We have rehoused our library and archives. We are learning to like our boring new office, and we believe it will help us to better serve our mission – to campaign against the manufacture, sales and promotion of arms worldwide.
Nevertheless, there is still something missing that Goodwin Street possessed in spades – history, character and emotion. So, goodbye 11 Goodwin Street – you were very special to us.
CAAT has moved from goodwin to wells. Our new address is Wells House (Unit 4), 5-7 Wells Terrace, London N4 3JU. Our phone, fax and email addresses remain the same.