Domestic abuse charity lodges formal complaint against Hackney mayor amid premises dispute
PUBLISHED: 16:35 23 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:35 23 August 2020
A formal complaint has been lodged with Hackney Town Hall by a domestic violence charity alleging the mayor has breached the council’s code of conduct and harassed the organisation on social media.
Evidence in support of Sistah Space’s complaint, which is backed by local Green, Liberal Democrat and Women’s Equality parties, is still to be submitted to the council, but the harassment accusation is said to hinge on the use of the official Mayor of Hackney Twitter account.
The organisation has also levelled accusations against Hackney Council in a long-running and heated debate over the charity’s future premises.
Last week, the council served the organisation with notice to vacate a building in Mare Street where the charity Sistah Space has been based since December 2019, and asked it to return to their former shopfront site in Lower Clapton.
Hackney Council says it has spent £35,000 refurbishing the Lower Clapton site at the charity’s request, saying Sistah Space agreed to move back once renovation was complete.
READ MORE: Hackney domestic abuse charity hits out at council over eviction in accommodation dispute
Sistah Space staff have said its former site is unsuitable and unsafe, voiced concerns about moving during the pandemic and accused the Town Hall of asking them to leave because they do not “fit in”.
A spokesperson for Sistah Space said: “Supporting women experiencing domestic abuse requires confidentiality and so to see our name all over social media and in the press, with the mayor and council saying we are dishonest, has badly affected how we support those in need, especially recently when Hackney Council press released and used social media to tell everyone that we are being evicted.
“The Hackney community have been amazing. They have told the council they want us to stay, they have raised the money for us to pay the rent on our current location, but Hackney Council refuse to listen.”
The council said it does not let commercial buildings for profit, with all income generated invested into frontline teams as a “vital source of revenue to support council services”.
The Sistah Space spokesperson continued: “They have suggested that [our current] location is not suitable for a domestic violence charity but we are the experts on this, not them. They claim our old premises are more suitable, but we are the experts, not them.
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“We are saying, and have said for years, that the old premises is completely unsafe for us and the women we support.
“We’re not going to give in. We can’t let down all those women who need our support and we know that the Hackney community is standing with us in demanding a safe place for Sistah Space in Hackney.”
In an open letter last week, the three opposition parties threatened “additional steps” unless the organisation was granted a flexible lease at its current home and a public apology was issued, urging the Town Hall to cease use of its website and social media in the dispute.
A Hackney Council spokesperson confirmed that a complaint had been received, but is unable to comment now the complaints process has been initiated.
Mayor Philip Glanville declined to comment.
It is understood that the official mayoral Twitter account has sent one tweet to Sistah Space in late May when the dispute became public, with two formal letters sent to the charity by his office.
All communication was subsequently carried out through other senior councillors at the organisation’s request.
Any complaint made to the council is reviewed by the head of legal services, as well as an independent lawyer outside of the Town Hall.
If it is found that the complaint is merited and warrants an investigation, it would then be referred to the council’s standards committee.
A protest organised by Sisters Uncut, the London Renters Union and Black Lives Matter UK saw about 500 people support the charity in July.
READ MORE: Hundreds protest plans to move Hackney domestic abuse charity into “unsuitable premises”
The three opposition parties have also launched savesistahspace.uk, designed to allow people to easily contact their ward councillors and the mayors of Hackney and London to prevent Sistah Space having to leave their current premises.
A joint spokesperson for the three parties said: “We need Mayor Glanville and Hackney Council to change their course and do the right thing, and directly asking your ward councillors who have been elected to the council to represent you, to demand the eviction is stopped will have a big impact.”
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