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Archive - Saturday, 9 February 2002
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Big Bruno to the very end
King of the squatters Bruno Crosby has left thousands of pounds to help house the homeless.
Bruno, 51, who died of liver failure, left half his house, worth about £40,000, to Brighton Housing Trust.
He co-ordinated squatting activities in Brighton during the Seventies when the movement was at its height.
At one stage, hundreds of squatters were housed across the town in squats he had organised.
He devoted most of his energy trying to ensure people were properly housed at a time when there was little legislation to protect the homeless.
Friend Colin Belcher said: "It is true Bruno left half his house.
"It was typical of him and I'm glad he did it."
Bruno also left £200 to Brighton pub The Engineer, formerly The Argyle Arms, so friends could have a drink in his memory.
Bruno turned to alcohol as a young man, blaming his drink habit on the boredom of working in a seafront hotel. He soon started wandering the streets and taking drugs.
But he was the hero who kicked heroin and started social work to help people.
He began the Bit by Bit helpline service and also started the Open Cafe in Victoria Road, which became the centre of Brighton's alternative society.
All types of unconventional organisations would meet there, from the Claimants' Union to alternative newspaper Brighton Voice.
Profits from the vegetarian cafe went to Bit by Bit. Always casually dressed, Bruno looked the typical hippie, with shoulder-length hair and a bushy, black beard.
He started the Brighton and Hove Squatters' Union, which occupied scores of empty houses in the town.
At first it was on a collision course with the Tory-led council and landlords.
But Bruno's eccentric charm soon won them over and he was even a guest speaker at a meeting of the Sussex Private Landlords' Association, for once wearing his best bib and tucker. Landlords' secretary Ronnie Shrives said: "It was a very civilised meeting."
He got on well with Tory council leader Bob Cristofoli, who even went round to Bruno's squat house in Argyle Road for tea.
Mr Cristofoli said: "Bruno was a little bit of history.
"He was totally straight and a man of his word. He did a lot for homeless people and I got on with him very well."
Bruno and his fellow squatters practised what they preached at Argyle Road.
They completely renovated the building, which had been empty for five years.
Eventually, it became the oldest squat in Brighton.
Bruno renamed his squatters' union the Sussex Housing Movement.
He said: "Our aim is to be very conservative with a small c.
"We move in, clean up, do repairs and tell the neighbours what we are doing. We treat the landlords in a reasonable manner."
Bruno, who believed in conciliation rather than confrontation, moved on to the board of Brighton Housing Trust.
In 1979, he negotiated between the trust, the council and squatters who had taken over derelict buildings in Springfield Road, Brighton.
Later it was arranged the trust should take over the buildings from the council and help many of the squatters to be housed.
Trust director Jenny Backwell said: "Bruno was one of Brighton's characters.
"He was extremely consistent and had a lot of integrity. He raised the profile of squatting and homelessness when it was needed.
Eventually, Bruno tired of his work and moved to Cornwall. But Ms Backwell said: "He always had a soft spot for Brighton.
"He would keep in touch with what was going on and would turn up at some meetings."