IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Join the debate about the Holloway Prison site’s future

04 September, 2020

A women’s building that honours legacy of HMP Holloway?

• AS debate heats up about the “Women’s Building” to be built on the former Holloway prison site – how big, how architecturally bold, what activities? – I worry that something crucial is being lost.

Having worked in the psychological therapies department in Holloway Prison for 10 years, I saw how our work improved the lives of women, their children and, in turn, future generations.

And, as a born-and-bred Islington resident, I believe we have a unique opportunity to put our experience to work in the heart of our borough.

The architects appointed by the site developer Peabody have offered some provisional ideas in the past few weeks, many of which are interesting (see Peabody’s website for the development: http://hollowayprisonconsultation.co.uk/).

However it worries me that at this stage there is no women’s refuge or temporary accommodation for women fleeing domestic violence on their initial plans. Nor is there appropriate space for vital counselling and therapy.

Why does this disturb me? Quite simply, domestic abuse is a major driver of women’s offending. According to the Prison Reform Trust, “around half of women in prison report having been victims of domestic violence”.

Back in October 2017 Sarah Newton MP, then minister for crime, safeguarding, and vulnerability, said: “This government is committed to tackling domestic abuse and supporting all survivors including, female offenders, to ensure they can rebuild their lives.”

My question is: do Peabody’s plans for the women’s building reflect this stance? Frankly, I’m sceptical.

Domestic violence services have continued to experience dramatic cuts over the past decade. Levels of domestic abuse have increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the UK charity Refuge reporting a 50 per cent increase in calls to its national domestic abuse helpline.

Meanwhile Sistah Space, the only domestic violence charity in Hackney for African and Caribbean heritage women, was formally asked to vacate its Mare Street premises in August 2020. Across London services like Sistah Space are struggling to survive and funds continue to be lost.

These concerns have led me to join the Women’s Building Working Group, which is part of the Community Plan For Holloway campaign.

For me it is vital that an effective, evidence-based, proposal for the women’s building and the entire site (pictured) is eventually approved by the council.

Why? So that in six or seven years we have a women’s building that projects a lasting and positive legacy for the tens of thousands held in the prison over its 160-year history, and that helps women stay out of the criminal justice system.

The debate will be intense in the next few months. I hope people who care about our community, about women and families, and about creating a decent society, will get involved.

SOPHIE BENEDICT
Co-founder and director
Holloway United Therapies

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