FEATURE: Meet the Urban Campers
BAZAKE in the City – In association with Arhsoll & Jenkins, presents the young professionals who are redefining the way we live and work in the nation's cities.
BAZAKE in the City – In association with Arhsoll & Jenkins
Meet Tabatha, Kat, Oli, and Vic, the bright young things who are part of the brand-new trend for “Urban Camping” which is taking Britain’s costly cities by storm. Rather than spend hundreds per week on tiny box rooms and having to fight for sink space with twenty other housemates in the communal bathroom, they choose instead to spend their nights under the stars. But this is far from families visiting a Caravan Club camping site, or cowboys sitting around a glowing fire in the Wild West, it is young professionals camping in the doorways of the nation’s chicken shops, estate agents, and betting parlours.
I met Tabatha and Kat, both 22, in Greenwich, where they have pitched tent within walking distance of the Cutty Sark. Tabatha, a paralegal secretary in one of London’s biggest law firms, and Kat, a graduate in business studies currently working as a barmaid, first met in a cramped bedsit in Stratford.
‘It was disgusting,’ said Tabatha, curling her nose up as Kat nodded in agreement. ‘I lived in what amounted to a small cupboard with black mould creeping up the wall. I’d spray it with bleach one day, and it would be back the next. My landlord tried to blame ME for the problem, telling me that my lungs must be spraying out dirty fungus spores. The cheek!’
Kat, the daughter of a life insurance broker, was also unhappy. ‘For me, the final straw was when the landlord said he was installing a camera in our communal bathroom to find out who was breaking his toilet seats. Maybe if he bought ones that weren’t Argos value or rescued from skips, they’d last longer!’
After being informed their rent was going to be raised by £100 per week because a branch of Foyles were to open their doors nearby, they decided to make the leap.
‘I had the idea when I got roaringly drunk at Fabric and ended the night passing out under the tracks of the DLR. When I woke up, I felt the morning dew on my face and thought, wow, this is so refreshing. It made the hangover almost worth it!’ said Tabatha, while setting up her snug, Vango Cobra 400 sleeping bag.
I ask if they are ever bothered by the police. ‘No, not really. If anything, they’re supportive. At first, they used to give us some aggro, but when they saw we were urban campers and not vagrants, we got on great. One of them even stops by for a mug of campfire tea during his rounds and always makes sure we’re well looked after!’
It’s not only the police who are in support of urban camping. Many of London’s Boroughs have embraced the trend, seeing it as a way to attract young professionals into areas blighted by knife crime and foul poverty. A spokeswoman for Haringey Council praised the young urban campers, expressing the hope that it will attract boutique digital marketing agencies and hipster microbreweries to the area. ‘With rents being so high, we’re really having to think outside the box to attract young professionals to the area. So instead of building expensive social housing, we’re providing free tents and newspaper insulation for anyone with a 2:1 degree from a Russell Group university.’
After spending a cosy night with Kat and Tabatha on the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, I said my goodbyes and moved on to the Roman city of Bath, the jewel in the crown of Somerset. For many, Bath is a prohibitively expensive city in which to work and live, but for Vic and Oli, a young couple who met at Bristol University, a much more frugal way of living was possible. After Oli was made redundant in the publishing industry during lockdown, the pair decided to join the dozens who chose to sleep under the stars.
‘It’s quite romantic, isn’t it, Oli?’ says Vic, and is met with a loving nod while washing the pair’s underwear in their antique wash bowl. ‘I’d say this has really brought us closer together as a couple.’
Looking at the pair and their well-to-do campmates, I can’t help but think the so-called housing crisis is nothing more than sour grapes from lunatics jealous of those who made it onto the housing ladder. When I put this to Oli, he agreed. ‘Oh, absolutely. There’s so much entitlement out there when there are some quite simple solutions. When I became unemployed and struggled to find work, I didn’t go begging to my landlord for free rent. That’s basically theft! Instead, we showed some gumption and took up urban camping! These people think housing is a right. Nonsense! Landlords work hard for their houses. My father was a landlord, and so was his father. Evicting people is very stressful. Awful stuff.’
In the afternoon, I joined the couple and their Urban Camping community as they walked to the skips behind a Premier convenience store. Here, they came upon a vagrant and set upon him. As the blows rained down on the clearly inebriated tramp, his piercing screams filled the winter air.
Later, over a mug of cocoa, I asked the pair about the incident. ‘It may seem harsh,’ said Vic with his brow firmly furrowed, ‘but we need to let these people know that the streets are ours now. This is a polite, sensible, family community. We don’t want their type here shooting up vile drugs into their arms and urinating in front of tourists. There are far more suitable places for that kind of thing up north. Take it to Skelmersdale, or Wigan, or Burton on Trent. We don’t want it here!’
With that, I left the vibrant, burgeoning urban camping community in Bath with a huge spring in my step. I couldn’t help but be proud of Kat, Tabatha, Oli, Vic, and the countless other hip young professionals reinventing the way we live. Our thirst for innovation and can-do spirit means that something even as horrific as a shortage of affordable housing won’t stop our plucky population from finding a solution. Maybe, just maybe, the kids are alright?