'Sistah Space was not evicted', says Hackney mayor on premises dispute
- Credit: Andy Commons
Hackney's mayor has said a domestic violence charity is asking the council for a space which "simply does not exist" amid a long-standing dispute over its premises.
The Save Sistah Space campaign, supported by Hackney’s Women’s Equality Party, Green Party and Liberal Democrats, urged councillors to vote in favour of its petition to provide premises for the charity at a full council meeting on January 27.
Founder of Sistah Space and one of the petition’s organisers, Ngozi Fulani, urged councillors to "prove Black lives do matter": “Sistah Space has been held in high esteem for the work we have done and continue to do and that is why Hackney gave us that citizens' award, made us one of the speaker’s chosen charities [last year] and more.
“But the moment we said: 'Please sir, can we have some more?' You said: 'More?'”
The petition is asking the council to provide a minimum five-year lease for suitable premises in the borough.
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It currently has 2,900 signatures and demands that if no Voluntary and Community Sector (VCS) premises are currently available then the council should provide another property from its commercial portfolio, at community rent rates.
A previous petition rejected for debate by the council had over 20,000 signatures.
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Ngozi said the charity’s client base has increased by 500 per cent.
According to ONS data (2016), approximately 34,000 women and girls in Hackney have experienced domestic abuse in their lives.
Hackney's domestic abuse intervention service supported 154 survivors this month, with 51 describing themselves as African, Caribbean, Black or of mixed heritage.
Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville and cabinet members emphasised the work the administration has done to end violence against women and girls and wished to "move forward" and work together to support survivors.
The mayor said the charity has been treated with “equity and respect” by the council, adding: “Sistah Space has not been evicted. They agreed to leave on that date and they have done so.”
The charity may take part in competitive processes for council buildings as they become available, like other voluntary and charitable organisations.
The mayor highlighted over 45 properties across the borough allocated for VCS organisations and currently, only four are unoccupied.
He added: “None of the buildings meet the specifications set out in the petition, so Sistah Space is asking for a space which simply does not exist.”
In addition, Cllr Chris Kennedy, cabinet member for health, adult social care and leisure, emphasised decisions and VCS policy have been made by the council with its public sector equality duty (PSED) “firmly in mind”.
He said: “It would be unfair and against our policy to unilaterally transfer a property over to our VCS portfolio simply for the use of one charity.
"Therefore, it’s my contention that the petition and this question are actually asking us to breach our PSED and, as I have laid out, that is not something we have done until now and not something we are about to start doing.”
But a spokesperson for the Save Sistah space campaign said the council has a “moral obligation”, beyond legalities, to help Sistah Space.
The charity was initially letting a council space in Clapton under a voluntary sector lease before it was temporarily relocated to 280 Mare Street to allow for refurbishment works.
It later said the Clapton site was not suitable for its work and, following independent mediation with the council, agreed to stay at the Mare Street property for a temporary period to end on January 17 at no cost to the charity.
Meanwhile, councillors thanked Sistah Space for the work it does in the borough and conservative leaders Cllr Simche Steinberger and Cllr Harvey Odze for Springfield ward showed strong support for the petition.
Cllr Carole Williams spoke of “political pariahs...poised and ready to exploit the situation" for "a few votes in the 2021 election and said: "I'm appalled and aghast at the social media kangaroo court that has been employed against colleagues and comrades.”
In addition, Cllr Sophie Conway asked people to dispel the “us versus them narrative”, having experienced domestic abuse herself.
View the petition at https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/give-us-a-safe-space