MayDay Rooms is an educational charity founded as a safe haven for historical material linked to social movements, experimental culture and the radical expression of marginalised figures and groups. It was set up to safeguard historical material and connect it with contemporary struggle. Its home, the Birmingham Daily Post’s former London office at 88 Fleet Street, was refurbished over 2012-13 to facilitate collective gatherings and allow fluid connections between users of the building, its archives, and various digital platforms for dissemination.It offers communal spaces – a reading room, a meeting and screening room and a canteen – where this material can be explored and researched, to activate its potential in relation to current struggles and informal research. MDR’s growing collections challenge the widespread assault on collective memory and historical continuity by countering those prevalent narratives of historical inevitability and political pessimism. Working in a broad range of media, from printed documents to film and ephemera, the core work of MDR is to activate and socialise this material in a number of linked processes – primarily collaborative education, digitisation and online distribution. MDR aims always to make historical material open to question and criticism; as much as this material contests the present, it still needs to be challenged by it.
The organisation is located in Fleet Street, Central London, but is informally linked in inspiration, collaboration and practice with an international network of common and concurrent initiatives.
The pre-history of MayDay Rooms goes back to 2009, when a sporadic international discussion was started on the need for a shared space where austerity could be countered, radical histories extended and archives of dissent built up. In Spring 2011, MDR circulated a manifesto which acted as a signal of intent, and an invitation for others to become involved.
In the Spring of that year, the MDR founding group gathered together friends and comrades involved in projects which offered inspiration and guidance at the event, ‘Archiving from Below: Engaging Histories’. A number of resounding conclusions came out of this meeting, namely that MDR’s activities should have a secure, physical home and not be subject to the destructive force of a speculative economy of urban space; that this home should be non-sectarian and welcoming, irrespective of social or professional status; and that it should make its material directly and actively relevant to struggles both in the present day and to come.
A year later, after an extensive search, MDR found that home at 88 Fleet Street; a building symbolically located adjacent to the site of the first printing press and the Bridewell prison. With help from its funder, The Glass-House Trust, the building was purchased and the future work of the organisation secured.
The text ‘A Brief History’ – collectively authored in January 2013, in the lead-up to MDR’s move into Fleet Street – attempts to give a sense of the ground covered, and the many individuals and groups who influenced MDR’s development, and continue to do so.
After several years of discussion with input from many others, the founder members of MayDay Rooms started working as a more consistent organisational body in 2011. It registered as a company limited by guarantee and as an educational charity to enable it to receive funding from The Glass-House Trust and formally started life with four ‘directors’ nominally reporting to a board of four ‘trustees’. MayDay Rooms’ board of trustees was drawn from contributors to ‘Archiving from Below: Engaging Histories’, the organisation’s inaugural meeting in May 2011.
To get MDR up and running, the group of directors was, during 2012-13, expanded to become six ‘core staff’ taking responsibility for the areas of Building Use, Environment, Materials, Relationships, Editorial and Tech/Digital. Additional work was commissioned from a number of freelancers on a one-off basis. Over 2014 MDR will be adapting its staff structure again to enable the long-term running of the organisation.
MayDay Rooms’ decision making is carried out via fortnightly meetings of core staff and monthly meetings with trustees. Trustees do not have an executive role, rather work in an advisory capacity and via ongoing, supportive dialogue with those running the organisation day-to-day. All decision making occurs with considerable further support from many generous people including, in 2012, an ‘Azsociates’ group and, continuously, ‘MayDay West’, an ad-hoc collective in San Francisco, which advises on radical reference and digital distribution practices. More recently, a working exchange with the most regular users of the building has been formalised into the MDR ‘Building Collective’, whose members help organise, schedule and host building use.
One overarching concern is that, whilst the building provides a series of separate spaces, any organisational impulse has to be wary of individual and ‘competing’ projects arising to the detriment of more process based activities and decision making, which serves the building as a whole and meets MDR’s ongoing commitments.
Founder members and core staff:
Fani Arampatzidou, Bryony Beynon, Iain Boal, Jaya Klara Brekke, Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Anthony Davies, Rosemary Grennan, Nils Norman and Howard Slater
Patrizia di Bello, Gillian Boal, Anna Davin and Alex Sainsbury
Jaya Klara Brekke, Tom Clark, Grace Harrison, Jakob Jakobsen, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Nils Norman and Fabian Tompsett
Megan Prelinger, Rick Prelinger, Lee Worden, James Jacobs, Shinjoung Yeo and Adam Wight
Caroline Heron, James Stevens / spc.org and Tony Wood
STRIKE! magazine, Cesura // Acceso and the Migrant Workers Education Group
Black Advice Network, Black Feminist Group, Bolivarian Project, Boycott Workfare, Cesura // Acceso, Critisticuffs, Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Inventory, Justice for Domestic Workers, Latin American Women’s Rights Service, Libcom, Migrant Workers Education Group, Occupy London Media, Novara Media, Radical Anthropology Group, Radical Film Network, Radical Philosophy, Radical Housing Network, STRIKE! magazine, SIC, Wealth of Negations, What is Full Communism Group, Women of Occupy London, 16 Beaver
(NB this is a list of recent regular building users, at the end of the scoping period in Spring 2014, and will evolve over time)
MayDay Rooms is funded by The Glass-House Trust. Having supported preparatory work since 2011, the Trust is, from May 2013 until April 2016, financing MDR’s set-up and infrastructure with a grant of £100,000 per year. This will in 2016 be reduced by half to leave an annual contribution to costs of £50,000. The Glass-House Trust’s support also extends to the provision of a four-storey building at 88 Fleet Street, which MDR occupies on a rolling, ten-year renewable lease.
Since opening its doors in Autumn 2013, MDR experimented for six months to understand what was possible in the building and to discover the costs associated with running it. This ‘scoping period’ came to an end in Spring 2014, and is helping MDR devise longer-term budgets for staffing, projects, technical facilities and building use, updates on which will follow over 2014.
MayDay Rooms has always considered labour, the wage and the place of work/non-work, compulsion/desire, as critical components in the process of shaping organisations. It has no tolerance for the many forms of peonage which lurk under the ugly euphemisms associated with the contemporary workplace; particularly internships and the (in)voluntary and (un)free placements which provide the hidden backbone of many institutions. As such, ‘working hours’ have been paid for at the same rate (£12 per hour), regardless of the type of labour (currently capped at 12 hours per week). The size of its grant means the staff are all part time, and administrative and running costs are prioritised. The place of wage labour within the mix of material and social resources will continue to be a central issue, as MayDay Rooms navigates – in the spirit of the materials it hosts – the relation between essential jobs, pooling and exchange, skill-sharing, and voluntary work.