A group protesting about the lack of social housing has taken over an old pub. Jonny Greatex joined them.
As I stand outside the derelict Firebird pub, it does not strike me as a place where I would like to spend the night.
The street lamps illuminate the glassless upstairs windows sufficiently for me to make out dozens of pigeons who now live here.
Every ground floor entry point has been sealed with huge steel shutters and the car park is blocked off with concrete slabs.
On top of that the bitter wind is carrying smatterings of rain on to the graffiti-covered brickwork.
As I start to question what I am doing joining a squatters’ protest, my host for the evening comes bumbling round the corner of the building.
“Nice to have to you here, thanks for coming,” says Steve Austin, 51, a Justice Not Crisis organiser. “You have timed it well – the curry is just about ready.”
With Steve leading through a smashed side door, I enter my night’s accommodation – the new headquarters of the Justice Not Crisis protest movement.
They clambered into the pub in Edgbaston as a follow-up stunt to their tented village protest on spare council land by the Pershore Road.
“We initially came in here as a another protest,” adds former catering worker Steve. “But it is a bit more out of the way and not quite as high profile, so now we are here we have been tidying up the place.
“There was a lot of rubbish and junk outside so we have cleaned a lot of that away. We have secured the place making sure we have got some protection from people barging in.
“This room has been turned into a living space and kitchen area and somewhere we can sleep.”
You cannot help but be impressed at how comfortable they have made it.
A series of high-powered gas hobs sit on the bar – one of them almost permanently given over to heating an enormous kettle to supply the massive tea demand in an enterprise like this.
On the shelves where once glasses would have sat are tins of Tesco value beans. The back of the bar is given over to cartons of fruit juice, long life milk, tea bags and mugs.
The toilet is a former gents cubicle lit by one candle and completely lacking in seat, lock, flush or paper.
In the main room four small spot lights run off battery power. The room feels quite homely as the lack of light hides its dilapidated state.
There are holes in the plaster board and ceiling, parts of the floor are broken and bare but overall it is perfectly livable.
Next to the bar two teenage girls are playing cards, my host Steve, is deep in
conversation with fellow Green Party activist Peter Beck while Liz O’Donnell, 39, and Doreen James, 56, who both live round the corner, sit chatting and smoking.
Through the evening, different faces drift in and out. At a table under the shuttered and taped-up windows is a 39-year-old homeless man originally from Manchester.
“I have been living in a tent in Cannon Hill Park for the past six months,” says the man, who wishes only to be known as JK.
“All the authorities knew about me being there and offered me things, but I did not want to go. They wanted me to go into a hostel but people there are taking drugs, I am much safer on my own.
“I am an alcoholic and I was on my way to the police station to ask for help when I walked past the first protest on Pershore Road.
“They took me in with no qualms, gave me food and a tent, it is like one big family, everyone trusts everyone.”
JK now has a place to call his own in the shape of the Firebird pub. He is the only person here who can claim the place as home.
The rest of this welcoming band of activists do at least have somewhere that is not a draughty dusty old pub, usually it seems just around the corner.
After curry is served to eight of us and with everyone replete, I try to chat to as many of the dimly-lit faces I can.
There is Jane Thomas, 38, from Balsall Heath, who works part-time with volunteers and has been involved in similar squats before – she just wants to lend her support.
Jon Freeman, 34, and Stephen Gwyne, 44, are both from the Freespace Brum – a group trying to create more autonomous social spaces in the city.
Former Army engineer Stephen, who calls himself a full-time activist, has spent five days constructing a makeshift fireplace complete with flue.
Jon has brought down a suitcase and two crates full of books – classics, anarchist texts and science fiction. He plans to start his own library.
Gradually those staying in their own homes drift away, leaving just a handful to stay the night, ensuring the Firebird is always occupied.
My spot is a long padded seat on the back wall of the pub. For two hours I fidget, failing to find a position my brain thinks is acceptable to sleep in. Finally tiredness wins out over discomfort.
In the morning I am provided with a full English breakfast and tea before saying my goodbyes.
As I drive back into my comfortable existence, I think to myself – I would stay there again.