Forget Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, community action pre-dates our current PM’s questionable policy, especially here in Kentish Town. Built around the principle of ‘self help’ – women sharing their experiences and assisting each other through them – Crossroads Women’s Centre has long been a meeting place. Now home to 15 organizations, women can access practical help to escape violence, better understand their rights, engage in self-help, gain new skills, and volunteer. And such is its influence that even Hollywood actor Danny Glover spoke at a recent fundraising.
This grassroots organization has been in Camden from its beginnings in 1975 as a squat in Drummond Street, near Euston Station. First visitors included homeless mothers of Bangladeshi families, many of whom visited the centre as they were being forcibly injected with the long term-contraceptive Depo-Provera.
After being evicted in 1977 they found a second, larger home just a few houses down. It was from here that the organization Women Against Rape organized their first march and public trial.
Following a second eviction, the organisation was given a third home after their occupation of Camden Town Hall when Ken Livingstone, then Camden’s Chair of Housing, gave them a rundown shop at a token rent. It became the King’s Cross Women’s Centre, and a growing number of groups were based there over 17 years.
Once again, re-development and eviction followed, despite local protest. This didn’t stop them though, and the commitment of volunteers kept the centre going till 1996 when a sympathetic landlord offered premises on Wolsey Mews. This year, they moved to a bigger spot (right), just across the street, following a huge fundraising effort.
With cuts to the welfare system reportedly affecting women more than men the Centre’s work has become all the more important, especially as the government has paid little attention to their impact. Crossroads volunteer Anne Neale confirms this. She’s noticed a marked increase in the number of inquiries about rights and benefits ‘as a result of cuts to housing and disability benefits.’ Now more than ever, women depend on centres like Crossroads: according to charity Women’s Aid, last year around 9% of women fleeing domestic abuse were turned away from refuges because of a lack of space. Some organizations report cuts of up to 50% of their funding. Why should society’s most vulnerable pay for the economic failures of the richest? These ideologically-driven cuts to funding have the potential to destroy lives.
As part of the refurbishment following the move to 25 Wolsey Mews, solar panels were installed with the help of the ‘feed in’ tariff–created to encourage green energy production. The government then announced they would be abolishing this scheme. They were forced to re-instate the tariff after a court battle, but then declared that the solar subsidy was no longer available for anyone who had received a ‘public funds’ grant and installed panels after 1 October 2011. The result? Crossroads will now miss out on the £1,280 per year that they had been promised.
If nothing else, make sure to sign their petition against this. And if you want to help a bit more, Crossroads is always looking for volunteers, either to work with one of the groups who use the space (a full list can be found online), or with the daily running of the centre.
Kentish Town has long been a very mixed community and Crossroads is more than testament to this. It’s a part of local history, helping women help each other. This matters, wherever and however you live in NW5.
Words: Amelia Horgan