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Activists call for women’s centre at former jail site

Candlelit vigil outside former Holloway Prison highlights renewed plea for vital support services

29 November, 2019 — By Calum Fraser and Alex Varley-Winter

Sunday’s candlelit vigil outside the former Holloway Prison

EXACTLY four years since then chancellor George Osborne’s surprise closure of Holloway Prison left prisoners weeping in their cells, a candlelit vigil of former inmates and women’s rights activists renewed calls for an “iconic” women’s centre at the prison.

The women gathered at the entrance to the former prison on Sunday night, sang songs, and recalled how its sudden closure, “without consultation”, meant that incarcerated and vulnerable women suddenly faced family separation.

Children were unable to visit their mothers in prison as they were to be sent miles out of London.

A speaker at the event recalled that the prisoners were told they were being “decanted” to elsewhere in the country, “as if they were bottles of wine”.

Mo Mansfield, a women’s rights campaigner and member of Reclaim Holloway, said: “People sang outside this prison when suffragettes were inside. People sang outside this prison when there were executions, and people are singing outside this prison today.”

Speaking to the Tribune after, she added: “The idea that was sold to us when they first closed the prison was that it was being done to improve women’s services and prison conditions, not that they were wanting to make quick money from a prime bit of real estate.

“Well, we now know that since then conditions for women in prison have got even worse and families are being torn apart as they cannot travel so far to see mothers and sisters and daughters.

“We want this site to be an example of how women’s services can replace prison and help them before they are sucked into the criminal justice system.”

In the years since the prison’s closure, women’s rights groups and ex-prisoners have taken direct action to protest and to call for new buildings on the site to be dedicated to community support services and arts projects.

Housing association Peabody bought the 10-acre site from the Ministry of Justice for £82million earlier this year after receiving a £42million loan from the Mayor of London’s land fund.

Peabody is consulting on the building of a new “women’s centre” there.

Activist group Reclaim Holloway hopes this will be an iconic building offering a range of vital support services to women and the children of women in prison, a community arts venue and affordable accommodation.

Peabody plans to build more than 1,000 homes, 400 of which will be sold on the market while 600 of them will be “genuinely affordable”, it claims.

It has promised that 400 of the “genuinely affordable” properties will be for “social rent”, meaning they will be below market levels.

The remaining 200 will be for shared ownership or at London Living Rent rates, which are affordable for middle-income households.

Consultation on the site starts on December 3 and campaigners are urging local people and particularly women in Islington to take part and let their voices be heard.

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