Can Masdeu is an abandoned leprosy hospital in a nature reserve on the outskirts of barcelona. Building and surrounding land was occupied in 2001 by a group of 7 people and slowly transformed into a social centre, allotments and a home.
The building itself is owned by ‘hospital de la pau’ – a combination of public and private bodies including the council, the hospital and the church. They planned to make money from the building by turning it into luxury flats for the rich – not a popular plan amongst local people! In catalunya it is both a civil and a criminal offense to occupy a building. This means that a court case can result in fines or prison time. The occupiers were issued with an eviciton order (beggining 2001), but when the bailiffs arrived, they decided to resist the eviction non-violently. They attached themselves to the sides of the building for 3 days and 2 nights. at this point, their legal team convinced the judge that the occupiers were in such a critical condition that their lives were in danger. Lives have more importance than the right to private property, they argued, and the bailiffs would have to leave. They never came back!
The social centre
The social centre opens on Sundays. There is a cafe which usually feeds 60 – 120 people with a meal cooked by four people. It also supplies local, home-made, ecological and fair trade goodies. different collectives run each element of the social centre – the bar, the freeshop, the infoshop, the library, the noticaboard, the cafe… The idea of the social centre is to be a bridge between urban and rural struggles. They have a corner of the social centre called the ´window to the countryside’ with information about rural projects and a list of abandoned villages around spain.
Other spaces in the social centre include the wood-pannelled room, which was built for meetings and physical workshops like yoga. There are beautiful dry toilets with a view of barcelona and a urinal block. Groups like the Ecotopia biketour can camp on the small camp site under the house, next to the garden.
The stunning allotments are divided into 50 parcels and are maintained by 80 people. People of all ages have allotments there, although most are local retired people which makes for an interesting intercultural exchange.
When people were invited to work on the land, they decided on two basic principles for alltoment holders:
1. natural growing – no chemicals or genetically modified plants.
2. collective participation – they would attend the monthly meetings, and help out with workdays
Part of the building is a private home for the occupiers. This decision was made after the first few years of chaos when there was no clear division between social centre and home. Many people would visit as can masdeu became more well known. The building itself has four floors which are now divided up as follows:
1st floor: workshops and bike / party room
2nd floor: private area for residents only
3rd floor: social centre
4th floor: terrasse
In total this includes 40 rooms!
The can masdeu collective have had to put a lot of work into making the site a welcoming and ecologically friendly place to be. Even getting there was initially difficult as the site was blocked with breezeblocks. There was flooding and small avalanches because of mining in the past in the mountains.
For water, the group restored the 70 metre well. They now have a grey water system under construction which takes the water used in the kitchen, shower and washing machine down to a pond. This water contains too many nitrates to go directly onto the garden, but can be allowed to filter itself in the pond. at the same time it provides a home for a diverse range of insects, plants and amphibians.
They use solar panels which they built themselves to heat water for the shower and kitchen. They also use wood burning stoves for heating. however, they still rely on electricity from the grid.
The 20 collective members own one van and one car, which they share between them. other projects onsite include a solar oven, a world-famous bicycle powered washing p, a strawbale house, a thriving medicinal herb garden, a solar shower, and a brewery (whose experimental roof unfortunately fell down!).
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