Anger as bid for women’s building on jail site ends up with just a single floor

Final Holloway redevelopment plan a blow for campaigners

Friday, 18th March — By Charlotte Chambers

Holloway prison IMG_9877

Holloway Prison – what will be its legacy? Work on the site is expected to start later this year

IT was an energetic and enduring campaign with a simple message: build a standalone women’s building into the redevelopment of the Holloway Prison site.

The disappointment for activists was palpable then when the final agreed plan last week reduced the idea to just a single floor in one of five blocks.

Despite this being the largest development for the borough in 30 years, campaigners were told the overall proposals for the 1.4-acre site in Parkhurst Road was a good agreement. They were effectively told to move on from their calls for wanting more space and see the provision as good deal.

Now campaigners say they were hampered from the start because of the lack of a feasibility study which would have worked out what was possible for the proposed women’s centre and what services would be wanted.

Niki Gibbs

They claim they ended up being pitted against new housing when, the campaign says, it should not be a choice between one or the other on a project of this scale.

Niki Gibbs, from Community Plan for Holloway (CP4H), said: “If the council did a proper study that really looked at the space that was needed and the space that was in the prison and what the services needed, and what the women in the community would need, they would come up with a figure that is closer to the 4,600 sq m that we worked out.

“There is a lot of passion here, and we just haven’t been listened to at all. It’s not more important than people’s homes but it is equally important. It’s not housing vs women’s building – it’s housing and women’s building.

“Politicians love to wave the flag – ‘we want to make life safer for women’ – but we need them to put their money where their mouth is and do something. We can’t just have empty words – there’s not going to be another opportunity to do this.”

Will McMahon, chair of CP4H, said the organisation – which has hundreds of followers – would keep fighting for a women’s building.

The jail site will see the largest development in the borough in 30 years

He said: “We will continue to work to ensure local residents have their views heard and in particular that the Women’s Building has a proper feasibility study and is governed by women’s organisations.”

Another campaigner, Mandy Ogunmokun, who has carried the Olympic Torch and visited Buckingham Palace in recognition of her work with women, said she had been a “prolific offender” who was “saved” by Holloway.

She now works with women and ex-offenders, supporting them to move into independent living.

She said the treatment she and others had received at the hands of Peabody – acting as the developer for the site – and the council had left them feeling “abandoned” and the women’s building an “afterthought”.

She wants to ensure the right help is available to assist women to break destructive cycles. She questioned whether there was enough space to fit the holistic, therapeutic, artistic and sport-based activities needed to treat families.

As the Tribune reported last week, councillors passed the scheme – and it was still unclear who would pay to fit out the space that had been allocated for the centre.

Committee members had insisted they had to balance the competing needs – and the promise of nearly 1,000 homes including 415 council rent rate properties could not be turned down.

The Ministry of Justice closed the prison in 2016

Labour councillor Gulcin Ozdemir, who represents St George’s ward, described feeling “annoyed” at some of the “narrative” around the development, and said it was time to think about the 14,000 people on Islington’s housing list waiting for their first home or an extra bedroom to ease overcrowding.

She also said she felt it was important to recognise the councillors who had “sat in so many meetings” with Peabody that “got quite heated,” “holding them to account”.

She said: “Even in the meeting last week there were comments [from objectors] about ‘well let’s have less social housing properties’ – when we have so many people on our housing list. We fought really hard. Peabody were not willing to have 415 council rent properties.

“This narrative that there’s not enough space for services – this is the first facility of its kind in the country.

“That’s being ignored because it’s not as big as people wanted it to be.”

Both Cllr Ozdemir and housing chief Councillor Diarmaid Ward insisted that they did want to have a feasibility study.

Campaigners argue that this should have been done starting at the point of need. And by doing it now councillors were risking only ­looking at what would fit into a limited space.

Defending the app­roach to the women’s building, Cllr Ward said: “Peabody were originally talking about a women’s building that would be as small as 600 sq m.

An illustration of how the Holloway prison site may look with nearly 1,000 new homes and a public park

“As a council we’ve got some of the toughest planning policies in the country. Through hard work our councillors and our planning team pushed this because we knew how important a women’s building was for the site and managed to push them to something that almost doubled in size to 1,500 sq m.

“We’ve made sure it’s not a token gesture. It would have been better if we’d already got going with it [the feasibility study] but we are now pressing ahead with it and we’d like CP4H to get involved.”

The women’s building campaigners say they also wanted a museum or some form of commem­oration of the site’s 170 year history, which once saw suffragettes imprisoned there.

A Peabody spokesperson said: “We’re balancing the multiple needs for the site by providing much needed social housing, quality open spaces and a Women’s Building. The Women’s Building and garden at Holloway will be an exceptional facility, which is twice the size of the facilities available when the prison was opened and pretty much same location.

“The private garden next to the building will be a fantastic and tranquil space for the women using the facilities.”

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