It started right here: pioneering protection for women from all backgrounds


Selma James, founder of Kentish Town’s Crossroads Women’s Centre, on how it all began – and what they’ve achieved in the first 40 years



Forty years is a long time; half a lifetime, in fact. But it has taken that many years to create the relationships, organisations and networks that are now alive and well at our centre.

Back in 1975 the three year old Wages for Housework Campaign, though it already had an international network, was still meeting in front rooms. There was a squatting movement that made use of empty properties, and we joined it. We squatted 129 Drummond Street, near Euston, and made a home that featured in a BBC Open Door public access film, All Work and No Pay, broadcast in 1976.

Protesting at the  Town Hall. Photo: Crossroads
Protesting at the Town Hall in 1978. Photo: Crossroads
We learnt how to be useful to the community in ways that promoted women’s visibility and strength. For example, Bengali families were being evicted, and the women who went into hospital for childbirth were injected with Depo Provera without their knowledge or consent. Working with the women and the men together we got them re-housed and stopped the Depo Provera.

When in 1977 we were threatened with eviction, the Bengali families eagerly supported us. But we didn’t win that battle. It took two more years of squatting other places and one woman chaining herself to the council balcony, suffragette-style, while unfolding a petition yards and yards long which local residents had signed, before Ken Livingstone agreed to give us a licensed squat with a peppercorn rent. It was a slum but it was wonderful. And in the course of working with women – local, national, international – we learnt how to confront all the divisions among us: race, nationality, mothers and non-mothers, age, sexual choice, occupation.

As it is today: 25 Wolsey Mews. Photo: Crossroads
As it is today: 25 Wolsey Mews.
Photo: Crossroads
In 1995 we lost that home to redevelopment and were distraught but came out fighting. We found a new home in Kentish Town, this time not a slum once we’d renovated it. We changed our name from King’s Cross to Crossroads to honour the women in the Crossroads Township of South Africa, whom the apartheid police never succeeded in evicting; and because by now we were a crossroads from many parts of the world.

When the building on Wolsey Mews was to be sold, we put our heads together and formed the charity Crossroads Women which now runs the centre. We had the most wonderful experience fundraising among friends and neighbours. They took the centre as their own and gave their time and money with great generosity. The charity bought it.

Celebrating 40 years last Friday, with the premiere of a short film about the centre, an exhibition and live music with the legendary pianist June Turvey. Photo: Crossroads
Celebrating 40 years last Friday, with the premiere of a short film, an exhibition and live music from pianist June Turvey. Photo: Crossroads
We can now say that the austerity, though it doubled our workload and made most of us poorer, could never defeat us.

The friends we have made in the course of the activities of all the organisations based here (including the men’s group) are what we always wanted when we began 40 years ago. We have changed the centre and in turn it has changed us. And we believe that we collectively have helped to change the world.

Not a bad way to spend 40 years, all in all.

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Find the Crossroads Women’s Centre at 25 Wolsey Mews, Kentish Town, NW5 2DX. More info about opening times and events on their website

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  • poxdoctorsclerk

    That is my old squat 129 Drummond Street, Euston. I squatted the shop and flat above in 1975. I and mates opened a radical bookshop for a while, but in the end we just opened it made a few quid and went to the pub, so I gave it to Wages for Housework (not forgetting Wages Due Lesbians, Women against Rape etc. etc.).

    They used to use my kitchen to make hot drinks and the toilet was an outdoor one, which we shared. On a couple of occasions one of the women came upstairs and said “Excuse me, but there’s someone asleep on the toilet” and we’d have to carry one my druggie mates out.

    Quite a few of the women were radical feminists and wouldn’t talk to us because we were MEN. But Ruth Hall was very nice and Selma James called me “brother” when I had a go at the Councillor (think it might have been John Mills) at a public meeting when we were being evicted end of 1976. (A property developer owned all the area then and were proposing demolishing everything and building something like the Euston Centre/Tower across Hampstead Road, Camden Council opposed this and ended up buying all the area themselves)..

    The womens centre got a new place and I moved in with a mate in North Gower Street in what now passes as “next door to 221B Baker Street” in TV’s ‘Sherlock’.

    The shop is still there, it’s now a fried chicken shop 🙁

    Happy daze all told in this book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Battle-Tolmers-Square-Routledge-Revivals/dp/0415658926

    • poxdoctorsclerk

      PS
      I think the woman in the photo is Ruth Hall

      • anne neale

        Hi brother! So glad for your comments and we would so LOVE to be in touch with you! Please email us at contact@crossroadswomen.net so we can be in touch – you are most welcome to come and have lunch at the Centre in Kentish Town. By the way the photo is me, Anne Neale. Look forward to being in touch! Anne