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‘Build us a new landmark on prison site’

Campaigners want women’s building on Holloway jail land to rival the Emirates Stadium

06 December, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Nikki Gibbs from Reclaim Holloway

CAMPAIGNERS say they want the proposed “Women’s Building” on the old Holloway Prison site to compete with Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium as a landmark for people visiting the borough to come to.

A consultation event was held by housing association Peabody at the jail’s old visitors’ centre in Camden Road on Tuesday.

Responses to its survey from activist groups who are advocating a Women’s Building on the site were printed on placards around the room.

Nikki Gibbs, of the Reclaim Holloway group and a director of the Community Plan for Holloway, has designed and drawn ideas for an “iconic” multi-storey building with space for a women’s only library, museum and a therapy centre wrapped up into one.

The jail

She said: “I want this to be better than the Emirates. I want something that when you Google ‘Women’s Building’ online, wherever you are on the planet, the first thing to come up with is Holloway. Iconic, forward-thinking.”

The site is also due to have about 1,000 homes built on it.

Of the site’s history as a women’s prison, closed by the government in 2016, Ms Gibbs said: “The last thing we need in the criminal justice system is more draconian sentences. The father of Jack Merritt [the young man killed in the London Bridge terrorist attack last week] said this. If the government are not going to listen to him after what happened to his poor son, then who are they going to listen to?

“Locking someone in a tiny box for years and then letting them out without any support is not going to rehabilitate them.”

Claire Cain was at the consultation event as the campaigns manager for the Women in Prison charity, which was set up by Chris Tchaikovsky to support women after she had spent time in Holloway.

Vision drawn by Ms Gibbs

She said that the group were inspired by what was done in the United States when the Bayview Correctional Facility women’s prison in New York was battered by a storm and then rebuilt into a rehabilitation centre from the rubble.

She added: “We held a consultation with 50 women who have been in the prison and we asked them what they want to see and housing is a big issue and mental health support is big.

“We want a Women’s Building in its truest form. A space that will host multiple organisations all working around supporting women or campaigning and fighting for women’s rights. That would include a centre for women affected by the criminal justice system, supporting them in the community rather than prisons.

“We also want private work space. Debates and lecture halls, social enterprise spaces, a cafe for apprenticeships and to bring in money for the building.”

Aoife Conacur, Holloway project director at Peabody said: “We are committed to delivering a Women’s Building as part of the redevelopment of the former Holloway Prison site. It was great to have an opportunity to meet local groups and discuss what services could be provided. This is at an early stage at the moment and further public consultation is planned in the future.”

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