On Friday (July 10), a crowd of 500 gathered outside Hackney Town Hall to protest Hackney Council’s treatment of Sistah Space, London’s only specialist domestic violence service for women of African and Caribbean heritage. The organisation is in a dispute with the council to remain in its current premises in a commercial property on Mare Street. In a petition to extend the charity’s tenancy until March 2021, Sistah Space’s founder Ngozi Fulani states that at the height of lockdown, ‘Sistah Space were issued with a notice to vacate their current temporary offices by mid June 2020.’
The charity is expected to move to a venue on Lower Clapton Road, a building which Sistah Space operated out of for five years and has already proved unsuitable to support those who use its service. The petition text adds that: ’The place that Hackney has asked them to return to is a small shopfront building in a desolate area where squatters live in the abandoned community hall directly behind the premises and drug use is exceptionally high.’
Sistah Space was forced to close its domestic violence support service to new referrals last week as a result of the ongoing dispute. The charity claims that the local authority is asking for £22,000 a year from the specialist domestic violence organisation for it to remain in its current location. However Hackney Council denies this, and says it is looking for a single occupier for the whole building, rather than letting individual parts of the property separately. The council claims the move is not an eviction, and that it has ‘invested £35,000 in refurbishing and modernising their premises in Lower Clapton Road – providing safer, more secure and modernised facilities for staff and women seeking help’. The council has also offered to extend Sistah Space’s stay in the Mare Street property until at least the end of July.
A statement from Sisters Uncut, the direct action group which organised last week’s protest in support of Sistah Space, claimed that ‘While [mayor of Hackney] Philip Glanville and Hackney Council are positioning themselves as having put money into Sistah Space, they only spent money on renovations to the building that they own themselves, because it was unsafe and faulty.’
Sistah Space was founded in 2015, after Valerie Forde and her 22-month old baby were murdered by Valerie’s ex-partner. Valerie had previously reported a death threat from the perpetrator to the police, who did not intervene and recorded the incident as a ‘threat to property’. An Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report concluded the case was mishandled, and two detective sergeants were found guilty of misconduct.
The specialist support offered by Sistah Space provides an essential, healing environment for Black women and girls who have experienced domestic violence. Want to show your support for the charity? You can start by signing the petition to extend its Hackney tenancy. You can also contribute to the charity’s crowdfund. The money generated will allow Sistah Space to pay the rent for at least three years, in a suitable venue that women can access 24 hours a day, as well as allowing it to hire a specialist independent domestic violence advisor (the charity currently only has one paid employee to serve the whole of London). On the GoFundMe page, the charity says, ‘In our space we can support Black women as only we know how, in a place that reflects us and our culture, without apology.’
Find out more about Sistah Space and the work it does here.
For more information about direct action group Sisters Uncut, click here.
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