There was an accident on the M4 today so we were forced to leave the motorway at Slough and take the A4 back to Ealing. When we got to Heathrow we saw a sign for Colnbrook and Harmondsworth Immigration Removal Centres, my wife’s research focuses on women, migration, detention, health and home… so we thought we’d turn off and have an explore. It was not just the barb wired buildings that look like they could be logistical distribution centres for a supermarket that struck me, but their positioning to and relationship with their neighbour…
The building on the left looks like it could be a detention and removal centre with it’s concrete walls, small windows and… if you look closely.. two-way surveillance including CCTV cameras and loud speakers. This is actually the Sheraton Hotel at Heathrow Airport. The building behind it is Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre. Separated by just 50 metres, the ‘visitors’ of each of these dormitories are so close and yet ‘worlds apart’. It looks like they may even be able to look out of their (in)secure bedrooms to one another.
Looking north, in this picture you can see Colnbrook on the left (and west) and the Sheraton to the right (and east). Check out this map.
In their own words, here’s a quick comparison of these two different establishments:
“This centre, near London’s Heathrow airport, holds up to 383 detainees on behalf of the UK Immigration Service plus a further 20 people on behalf of HM Revenue and Customs. Sheraton Heathrow Hotel’s 426 guest rooms are warm, inviting, and designed for your comfort and convenience. Whether you choose a Classic room, Club room, or suite, you will experience the celebrated “ahhhhh” of The Sheraton Sweet Sleeper™ Bed. Since it opened in 2004 – ahead of schedule and under budget – more than 40,000 detainees have passed through the centre, making it one of the busiest removal centres in the UK. Most detainees are awaiting removal abroad, with more than 30 nationalities on average being held at the centre for an average of seven days. Our third floor includes dedicated Starwood Preferred Guest Rooms, as well as Club Rooms. Club Rooms feature King-sized beds, bathrobes, slippers and LCD screen televisions as well as upgraded amenities, free bottled water, complimentary wireless High Speed Internet Access and fitness center access. The short-term holding facility within the centre is used to hold people immediately after their detention by UK Immigration Service. They are usually only held in this facility for 72 hours. Colnbrook also provides a separate custody service to HM Revenue and Customs. Club guests have special access to the Club Lounge. A relaxing, upscale space, the Club Lounge offers complimentary breakfast, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a variety of beverage options. Take advantage of the private Club Lounge where you can connect with friends, meet with your team, or simply relax by catching your favorite TV show. The majority of those detained are suspected of smuggling drugs inside their bodies into the UK.The centre was designed and built by Serco and operates on an eight-year contract (with the possibility of a two-year extension) with the UK Immigration Service. Need to get some work done? A copier/fax/printer and complimentary office supplies, internet access and computer stations are ready to go. We pride ourselves on providing the best possible environment for our detainees.”*
A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to visit NGTE Pyestock. Near where I spent a chunk of my childhood in Fleet (Hampshire, UK), Pyestock was a major site for testing jet engines. Concord, Royal Navy and many other engines were tested across various ‘cells’ on site. For the last 10 years Pyestock has slowly faded after it was closed. When we visited the site Tesco had been planning to turn the site into a major distribution centre (and may still be). This got me thinking about liminal ideas and (re)presentations as Pyestock continued to be threatened by a form of impending form of topocide… The signs were upcycled from a Tesco supermarket and then carefully placed in and around Pyestock’s rooms, cells and equipment.