The iconic Thornton Heath eyesore Ambassador House is being squatted by a collective of artists, The Chronicle can exclusively reveal.
The group of five have taken over the vacant building which has been empty since it was bought at auction in October 2012 by Red Wing Property Holdings Ltd, owned by property developer Sajid Bashir who is now taking legal action to evict the artists.
The Chronicle was given unprecedented access to the nine storey office block after being invited in by one of the squatters, filmmaker Julian King who recently finished his degree at Croydon College.
While there is limited access to water, two floors of the building have working electricity and the collective has set up an amazing workspace on the third floor which is being used as an art studio for creatives.
The group wants to open up the redundant office space to the community and has begun putting in place precautions to meet health and safety requirements as well as setting up an account to pay for the utilities.
Ambassador House was was once a busy hub, with offices used by CALAT, the Met Police, and Croydon council.
We were shown around by torchlight and found dozens of abandoned offices before reaching the ninth floor with its spectacular views over Thornton Heath.
Many reading this will be shocked to see the large rooms sitting empty when Croydon is in the midst of a homeless crisis.
Similarly the community, which is home to many artists, and is campaigning for a community hub will be dismayed to learn there is prime space in the heart of Thornton Heath they could have been using.
Julian, a trained fitness instructor, who will appear in county court to oppose the eviction order, hopes to get community support for a campaign to reopen Ambassador House and provide film, music and exercise studio space. He has also been in contact with a homeless charity about providing accommodation within the building for a shelter.
Julian who grew up in the area and has been homeless and squatting since being evicted in 2014, said he climbed in to the building through an open window over two months ago.
He said: “We can be security for a building and as a matter of fact since we have been here we have stopped quite a few people coming in. We are very cautious about who we want to bring inside because some people they just want to destroy things and we are not about that. It is not conducive to how we want to go forward. We are trying to open a community project for the community and we want it to be spick and span.
“We are trying to source like minded people in terms of creatives to come and look at the place and see if they like the space. We have been doing this through social media and everyone who has come to look around has expressed an interest.”
Julian questions whether Red Wing may be in breach of its lease as the building is insecure with access easy not only for humans but animals. We saw rooms covered in the bodies of dead pigeons.
The council has been unable to achieve little in the last five years in getting all the parties involved in Ambassador House around the table to come up with a solution for its future.
The council did take legal advice about compulsorily purchasing the building but opted not to pursue this.
In the Croydon Local Plan options are identified for Ambassador House but not before 2026 – eight years away.
The plan would be to provide a mix of residential, retail and community facilities. It would have to include community use as Ambassador House is protected by Policy SP5.
One of the main reasons for the obfuscation is the complex nature of the freehold and leasehold arrangement.
There are two freeholders for Ambassador House- Network Rail and Fort Properties Ltd. Redwing is not the only leaseholder as Acebench, based in Preston and owned by the millionaire property Bhailok family, also hold a lease. Acebench’s lease expires on December 19 2087 – a day after Redwing’s and nothing can progress with the building unless both parties agree.
Redwing owner Mr Bashir is the CEO of Copperstones, an upmarket estate agents which says on its web site it has offices in Marleybone, Mayfair and Lahore.
Last year he was at the Luxury Property Show in Beijing selling off-plan one, two and three bedroom flats in the Battersea Power Station development which he speaks about on YouTube and sell for in excess of £1.2million. He is also associated with the current Prime Minster of Pakistan Imran Khan, who he was pictured with at a function.
Meanwhile, director of Acebench: Yousuf Bhailok’s name may be familiar because he was in the race to buy British Home Stores and is a former secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
*Read the full story in the print edition of The Chronicle which will be out next Wednesday.