John Harris

Journalist & Author

Freedom for Frestonia: the London commune that cut loose from the UK

When a group of squatters decided to form a republic in west London, few took them seriously. Forty years on, those on the frontline recall a remarkable victory

It’s only a small corner of west London, but it speaks volumes about the recent history of the city. Inside a converted factory is the HQ of Stella McCartney’s design business. Two minutes’ walk away is a similarly refurbished building now owned and used by the photographer Mario Testino. Across the cacophonous link-road that connects the A40 to Shepherd’s Bush is the ever-expanding Westfield shopping centre. And looming over everything is an unspeakably unsettling symbol of the 21st-century capital and its awful inequalities: what remains of Grenfell Tower.

On the walls of a new local gallery are 50 or so black-and-white prints that vividly capture a decade-long experiment in different ways of living and tell a fascinating tale that would be inconceivable in the modern capital. It all happened 40 years ago, when 120 residents of a squatters’ community threatened with demolition, eviction and dispersal decided to fight back – by becoming a self-styled independent republic named Frestonia, attracting the interest of the world’s media and embarrassing the authorities into taking them seriously, and allowing many to carry on living here.

They wanted to make us a non-problem, divide us. But all of a sudden we were in the news

Related: Joe Moran: Britain’s mini-republics had passports and flags, but they will be best remembered for their wit

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