Holloway Prison: Visitors’ centre set to become homeless shelter as Peabody launches public consultation over future of former jail

The Holloway Prison site from a neighbouring rooftop. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Holloway Prison site from a neighbouring rooftop. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Peabody wants to hear your ideas for the Holloway Prison site – and has confirmed it is in talks with charities about turning the visitors’ centre into a homeless shelter.

Holloway Prison pictured in the late 1990s while still a functioning jail. Picture: Rebecca Naden

Holloway Prison pictured in the late 1990s while still a functioning jail. Picture: Rebecca Naden - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The housing association today launched its first consultation over the future of the former jail, which it bought for £82million earlier this year,

Sadiq Khan loaned Peabody £42million from the Mayor's Land Fund in March to buy the site off the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The aim is to build 1,000 homes - more than 400 of them for social rent.

A minimum 60 per cent of all properties on the land will be classified as "genuinely affordable": at social rent, for shared ownership, or at Mr Khan's "London living rent" rate.

Peabody and London Square, the developer contracted to work on the 10-acre site, is offering the community a blank canvas to put forward design ideas and "see the constraints of the site". People will also be asked what their priorities are for future development.

The Holloway Prison site from a neighbouring rooftop. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Holloway Prison site from a neighbouring rooftop. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

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But a spokesperson today confirmed there were already plans for the visitors' centre - long touted as a potential shelter despite the MoJ's refusal last year to entertain the idea.

"We are talking to local charities about making use of the visitors centre on a temporary basis," he said.

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Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn had also called for the visitors' centre to be used as a temporary homeless shelter until work commences, subject to planning permission, in 2022.

The Labour leader this week told the Gazette: "For too long private developers have had free reign to buy up public land and build properties that are completely unaffordable for the local community. Our borough needs social homes and genuinely affordable homes built on the Holloway Prison site and that be the priority for this development.

"It is also absolutely essential that plans for a women's centre on the site go ahead, in addition to the proposed homeless shelter."

Jon Glackin, coordinator of grassroots homeless outreach group Streets Kitchen, said the group declined an offer to move into the upper floor of the visitor's centre.

"It's limited what's on offer," he said, "because they're keeping security guards downstairs, which is where I'd have liked to set up a cafe. They've taken the ground floor, so it's of no use to us. It should really be a women's resource centre, I mean the amount of women who died in that jail... the amount of homeless women [held there]. But you can't have that with security there, either.

"The bottom line is it's just a PR stunt for Peabody, so thanks but no thanks."

Peadbody has plenty of suitable properties it could offer Streets Kitchen if it really wanted to help, Jon added.

Peabody has been approached for comment.

But Islington's housing boss Cllr Diarmaid Ward said: "It would be a great shame if it didn't come off and I encourage Peabody to hammer out a deal with these groups."

Addressing the rest of the site, Phil Church from Peabody's development team said: "Peabody are bringing development plans forward in partnership with London Square, with both parties committed to an inclusive and wide-reaching community engagement programme.

"So far, we have written to nearly 10,000 local residents, over 50 community groups, and hosted over 100 people on tours of the prison. We're looking forward to carrying on the discussions and hearing people's views and ideas."

The government closed the category B prison in 2016, prompting Sisters Uncut to occupy the land and demand it be used to house survivors of domestic violence.

Peabody has since pledged it will open a women's building on site.

Will McMahon, of Community Plan for Holloway - a campaign group that's led lobbying efforts for social homes on the site - told the Gazette: "The crucial thing from the Community Plan's perspective is that Peabody ensure that the voice of all parts of the community is heard. People have said they want affordable housing, some green space and community facilities.

"And we, as the Community Plan, want to ensure that's delivered. We have had a couple of meetings with Peabody and so far the conversation has been constructive."

Andy Bain, of Islington Homes for All, added: "This is a major house-building project on what, until very recently, has been public land.

"There has been a significant amount of community interest over the last two years it has been up for sale. Peabody should already be aware of local groups' views.

"Campaigners will be looking for a level of governance involving local organisations and local people over the next three to four years involving decisions for the site, rather than what's currently a top-down structure."

The consultation will be held at the visitors' centre itself, which can be accessed via Parkhurst Road opposite the Exan Garage.

The sessions will take place on June 17 and 18 (3pm to 7pm); and June 19 and 22 (10am to 2pm).

Peabody and London Square hope to complete the project by 2026.

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