Inner Spin: Inside the City Rd. Squat

Draped in anarchist banners and bedecked with graffiti, the abandoned Spin Bowling alley on city road is now home to activist squatters: ‘The Gremlins’.

“I’m vain you can photograph me”- The Gremlin who showed me round the alley.

I arrived outside the ex-cinema and ex-bowling alley on City Road known as The Gaiety or Spin a couple of weeks ago. I knocked on the side door to ask if I could come in and take some photos. No-one answered.

I walked around to the back of the building looking to see if I could find any way in. Eventually I came to one side of the building where, through a large hole in the wall a storey up I could see a man peering out.

“What do you want” the squatter yelled to me down in the alley-way. I held up my camera and said I wanted to take some pictures. He said: “Come round”.

I got back to the door and listened as the multitude of locks on the door were slammed open, then the door opened.

I was greeted by a long-haired, bearded and friendly man. I asked him if I could come in and get some photos; he said there was no reason why I couldn’t.

‘The Gremlins’ have now been squatting in the alley for some time. The group have re-named the old building ‘Gremlin Alley Social Centre’.

The building is at the heart of their campaign and they hope to establish the stunning listed building as a new community centre for Cardiff.

A Gremlin showing me ‘The Bedroom’

Another aim of the group is to highlight the imprisonment of Alex Haigh, the first person jailed for residential squatting in the UK. residential squatting is now a criminal offence and carries a maximum punishment of six months in prison, a fine or both.

Going up the staircase I noticed a small amount of Graffiti, one strip light was hanging down over the stairwell, torn off the wall.

The ‘Gremlin’ turned back to me and said: ‘this way to the bedroom’

The bedroom is a massive hall in the heart of the derelict building. The first thing that hit me was the sheer amount of graffiti, some of it political quotes, bizarre drawings and I spotted a few famous bits of Cardiff graffiti (couple of Lembo tags in there). Every inch of the walls are covered.

In the room the squatters sleep on some mattress strewn across the floor. In one corner is a sofa and down the far end

The squatters sleeping arrangements.

someone had erected a tent.

I walked around the building looking at the graffiti, and the building. Some of the building is in a terrible state, there are holes in the floor and nails sticking out of panels.

While I looked around, the squatters sat in the corner chatting and laughing, the gremlin showing me round walked about the place rolling cigarettes and swinging a hockey stick around.

Another of the Gremlins told me: “There was some talk of making permanent bedrooms, but I think everyone is bit worried about the bailiffs and police turfing us out any day soon.”

As I left the alley the Gremlin who had shown me around pointed at the series of locks on the door and assured me “no-ones getting us out of here.”

The group have faced several attempts by the police to kick them out of the building, but the Gremlins are still resisting eviction, across the street a banner in someone’s window reads ‘Viva La Gremlins’.

Do you agree with ‘The Gremlins’ that something should be done with Spin Bowling Alley on City Road? Do you think they are going the right way about getting something done? Have your say below…

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I am grateful to Ollie Latus and Nick Morris for helping with this story; please have a look at their blogs:

Ollie Latus (@ollielatus):

Nick Morris (@NJMorris1):

14 Responses to “Inner Spin: Inside the City Rd. Squat”
  1. I walk pass Spin on a regular basis. While it is sad that the building has become neglected- I fail to see what sleeping on dirty matresses in the freezing cold proves? What about the homeless man outside, who has been there for months? Who is highlighting his plight? The place is in so much disrepair, that knocking it down seems the only solution.

    These people talk about making it a community centre, so raising funds/investors etc is not a possibility? Unless they are outside making a song and dance about being there, for the rest of us Roath residents, life goes on.

    I do not claim to understand squatting or squatters rights. I am writing this as a resident of Roath.

  2. Chris says:

    To the guys in the building by defacing the place with graffiti I think you show disrespect to this building. The Gaiety is a listed building and was a top venue back in day, I’m a Roath boy and my parents went theirs on weekends.
    If you want to squat then ok, but at least have the sense to keep quiet about it, look after the building, keep a low profile and then you’d have no bother from the law.
    Shame guys a real shame

  3. anon says:

    There are much more positive actions you can take other than squatting and graffiting all over it (badly). This doesn’t help the cause and only adds the government’s argument about making squatting a criminal offence (which I agree is totally wrong if you are squatting because you are actually homeless). Wouldn’t it be better to work with the council to take buildings like this and turn them into safe places for homeless people? Gigs, socials etc could be held to fund projects like this, bringing a whole community together.

    There have been some great projects in disused building in both Cardiff and Newport over the years that do make a positive impact e.g. boilerhouse project, empty shops, comedy port. These people could also put their energy into campaigns like this one too:

    Positive actions make good things happen, damaging property and wasting police time/money doesn’t really help.

  4. feildofdreams says:


  5. Daniel says:

    well in my opinion and it is just that, i think what happens or rather doesnt to buildings around the city is a farce. i own The Bottle Shop – so i work my nuts off to pay rent on a pokey little building to try and make a living and generally “add” to the area. there are loads of building id rather have, loads i cant afford, loads sat empty i think i could make viable but i have to live in the real world. we try and co support other indies in Roath and beyond and i am genuinely comitted to backing Roath long term and trying to raise the profile of the good stuff and deter the bad – i tell off chavs who are being anti social, pick up leaves from the street, clear the drains and generally try and be a good nieghbour.
    i think all the dreamers who think squatting is a real solution or even a viable route to change should wake up and start trying to set an example -drop the political sound bites and faux principles … if you didnt like spin rotting (i didnt) clean it up dont vandalise it… open the doors run walkshops, plant a tub garden .. pick up litter dont break in draw on stuff and think your changing the world … sorry rant over

  6. Afro says:

    I am looking to buy the building to open a big shisha lounge! The building has a lot of potential, although it is badly damaged it is still fixable. It will be a great place for youngsters to ‘chill’, enjoy some shisha, there will also be a bar there and pool tables etc. Great location for socialising, it will certainly bring spirit back to City Road. It is such a shame that squattors have defaced this huge building where so much can happen. I want to rescue it. However, the main question now is, is it too late, do the squattors already have legal rights to the building via adverse possession, how difficult will it be to remove them?

  7. DJ Leekee says:

    Im glad most other posters here have agreed with my gut instinct and appear not convinced with what these people want to do.

    Im currently writing a blog post on this very subject and came across this post whilst researching it!

    I will post the link soon.


  8. thediffspace says:

    Hi! The issue is still of actuality. Housing Associations are looking at buying the building and convert it into affordable housing. What do you think? I’m trying to find out what the community would like the building to become. Here is a little poll. It takes a minute to fill and would be greatly helpful if you did.

    Many thanks,

    • I’ve voted! I don’t live in Cardiff anymore so I don’t really keep up with what’s going on at The Gaiety – are the squatters still there? (Also is your blog for the CJS course by any chance?)

      • thediffspace says:

        Thanks. The Gremlin group left quite a while ago. It was used until recently by group of people doing hard drugs. But no one can any longer access the building since all the pipes have been ripped off to prevent entry into the building.

        Would you know anyone in Cardiff, involved at the time, you may still be interested in the issue?

        Yes, it is a CJS blog, but I’m getting very committed to the cause. Hopefully it can continue to run.

      • I started this blog at CJS, I got really into it as well – say hi to Glyn and David from me! I’ll have a think about anyone who might want to comment, one of the flats opposite the Gaiety used to have a sign saying ‘Viva La Gremlins’ they might be interested. Any residents would probably have an interest. Good luck with the course!

      • thediffspace says:

        Great. I will! Thanks a lot.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] New Roath blogger Nick Pritchard, of Offbeat Cardiff, introduces his article about The Gaiety on City Road that appears in full on his blog. […]

  2. […] You can read about their aims on their website, or on my previous post. […]

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