Sisters Uncut criticise Peabody’s ‘lack of transparency’ over women’s centre plans for former Holloway prison site

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

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

A feminist direct action group has accused a housing association of a “lack of transparency in its decision making” over plans for a women’s centre on the former Holloway Prison site.

Protester's set of purple and green smoke flares

Protester's set of purple and green smoke flares - Credit: Archant

Sisters Uncut also raised concerns over the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime’s (MOPAC) involvement in talks to create the centre, arguing the facility must “have no direct links to the criminal justice system”.

Peabody says it’s had “no conversations” about MOPAC “running or funding” the centre, intended to be a legacy use for part of the site following the demolition of the jail, which hosted several important services for women.

But Islington Council, which is leading the consultation on the site, approached MOPAC for its expertise and convening powers, focusing on the women’s centre element of the project.

Peabody brought the site off the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in March 2019 for £84million. The sale was partially funded by a £42m loan from the mayor of London’s land fund.

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

Peabody and developers Islington Square submitted an environmental impact assessment report to Islington Council on May 7.

This says there will be 1,200 flats on the site, with a provision of up to 60% affordable housing, a women’s centre and a new public park.

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It says housing blocks on-site will range from three-storeys to a maximum of 16-storeys.

Sisters Uncut occupied the Parkhurst Road jail soon after it closed in 2017 to demand the government fund domestic violence services.

A spokesperson for the group told the Gazette: “As a place of healing, the women’s building has to be a place with no direct links to the criminal justice system. This is fundamental to putting women and gender non-conforming people who have experienced violence at the hands of the state front and centre, and to making the building as open and safe as possible.

“We envision the space to be inclusive of groups such as migrants without access to public funds, people who have been directly affected by the criminal justice system and groups who are forced to face the reality of police violence daily. If we expect any kind of healing to take place in the space, the space must be as safe as feasibly possible for those groups. MOPAC has been, and continues to be, instrumental to much of the violence faced by the people this building is for. Were MOPAC to be able to use part of the building, we would be asking people to share a space with those who have perpetrated or enabled violence to them and their communities.

“In potentially allowing MOPAC to be involved, Peabody are ignoring the history of harm on the site and actively hindering the healing work that the building and those who will use it aim to do.”

They added: “Peabody has consistently demonstrated a lack of transparency in its decision-making, despite promises of community consultation under the ruse of accountability. [...] They are using the fact they have held a handful of public consultations as a veneer of approval, but failing to engage meaningfully in issues being raised during and outside of these ‘consultations’.

Peabody’s Holloway project director, Aoife Conacur said: “Since October last year there have been many discussions with various community groups, stakeholders, partners and service provider organisations to gather information about what is needed from the women’s building, who could fund and manage the space and who it should be aimed at. Final decisions on that will be informed by the brief and consultation which is being prepared by Islington Council.

“Whilst we have a good working relationship with MOPAC, particularly in relation to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women and girls, Peabody has had no conversations with them about funding or running the Women’s Building at Holloway.”

A spokesperson for the mayor of London said: “The [MOPAC] has not funded the women’s centre, but has been working with the local council to ensure a thorough consultation on plans for the building.”