Holloway Prison women’s centre pledge “a victory of sorts”
"It shows direct action works," say activists who occupied the prison
15 March, 2019 — By Emily Finch
Sisters Uncut at Holloway prison occupation in 2017
A WOMEN’S activist group who previously occupied a building at derelict Holloway Prison have called a housing association’s plans to build a women’s centre on the site “a victory of sorts” this week.
North London Sisters Uncut – an offshoot of the wider Sisters Uncut movement, which organises direct action protests calling for a reversal of government cuts to women’s services – occupied the visitors’ centre at the empty prison in Parkhurst Road in May 2017.
The Tribune was there to see how the activists transformed the space into a community hub where residents were not only offered free meals but workshops on topics from zine-making to self defence.
Housing association Peabody announced on Friday that it had bought the 10-acre site from the Ministry of Justice for £82million after receiving a £42million loan from the Mayor of London’s land fund.
Peabody plans to build more than 1,000 homes, 600 of them “genuinely affordable”. The remaining 400 will be for sale.
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.
It has also promised a women’s centre to reflect the history of the site where thousands of women, from suffragettes to prisoners of war in the 1940s, were held.
Women’s centre turned into a community hub
Peabody has said the women’s centre is “to be designed through resident-led engagement” and has already asked Sisters Uncut to take part in the consultation process.
Work at the site is due to start by 2022, to be completed by 2026, once building plans are approved by the Town Hall.
Niku Gupta, 25, who was present at the week- long occupation two years ago, said a women’s centre was needed because “so many women’s services are at risk and there is such dire need of permanent spaces where women can operate from that directly help women who are survivors of sexual violence and abuse”.
She added: “It feels like a victory of sorts that Peabody listened. It shows that direct action works. But you never know what can happen with the centre. It could just be all talk by Peabody. We have no reason not to trust them but we are going to keep the pressure on.”
Ms Gupta said the group’s occupation had felt like a “healing process” after so many women suffered in the prison.
The Tribune covered the inquest of Sarah Reed, the last woman to die at the prison, in January 2016.
The jury ruled that prison failures contributed to the mother-of-one’s death.
Islington housing campaigners cautiously optimistic
HOUSING campaigners have cautiously welcomed Peabody’s acquisition of the prison.
Andy Bain, from Islington Homes for All, said: “The agreed percentage of social rent housing, at 42 per cent, is significantly higher than what has become the norm in housing developments. It is also slightly better than Islington Council’s minimum of 35 per cent, as contained in its supplementary planning document.
“This result is due to three key factors: the determination of local housing campaigners, the strongly-held views of local people that what is needed is council housing, and the actions of the council to challenge the government’s efforts to decimate social housing.”
But he added that the number of “genuinely affordable” homes was “far short of what could have been achieved”. He regretted that the site was no longer “public land subject to democratic control”. Peabody will be working with housing developer London Square to create the homes.
Peabody chief executive Brendan Sarsfield said: “We are committed to working with Islington and the Greater London Authority to deliver an exceptional new housing scheme on this historic site. We are pleased to confirm we will deliver 60 per cent level of genuinely-affordable homes, integrating existing communities with a new Peabody estate.
“As well as providing new homes, we will ensure social infrastructure and placemaking are at the heart of our proposals. We are pleased to be working with London Square, which is a continuation of our longer-term relationship across a number of sites in London.”
Residents are invited to submit their views to Peabody’s consultation at http://hollowayprisonconsultation. co.uk/