Hackney Council has further written to domestic violence charity Sistah Space to set out how it is able to support it in the future and to ask it to sign an agreement to allow them to stay in interim premises while this is resolved.
The organisation, which supports women and girls of African heritage suffering domestic abuse, has registered premises in Lower Clapton Road, in one of the Council’s voluntary sector premises that it rents at a subsidised rate, significantly below commercial levels.
In 2019, the Council agreed to carry out works to improve this building in response to a request from Sistah Space, and supported the charity to move to temporary space within a commercial workspace in Mare Street, on a rent-free basis, while the Council carried out those improvements. Sistah Space agreed to move back once this work was completed.
After Sistah Space raised concerns at the start of the coronavirus pandemic about moving back to the premises, refurbished to an agreed specification with the organisation, the Council offered to extend the temporary arrangements from March 2020 until at least the end of July. The Council has always been clear that it would take a flexible and supportive approach to any move, which would always be subject to it being safe to do so in line with coronavirus restrictions and guidance.
This offer to continue using Mare Street temporarily remains open, as long as Sistah Space agrees to sign a property license needed for health, safety and insurance purposes and to ensure there is a legal basis for the organisation to use the space. It has so far not done so.
The Council is unclear why Sistah Space has said it is being forced to suspend its services, when it simply needs to sign a property license to continue to use the space on a temporary basis and avoid any disruption to, or impact on, the people it supports.
The Council has offered the support of its Public Health and other teams to ensure a safe move back to Lower Clapton Road, consistent with Government coronavirus guidelines. It has also consistently offered to work with Sistah Space to look at further improvements, such as installing roller shutters that can be closed electronically from inside the premises, intruder and panic alarms, and CCTV.
At a meeting last week, Sistah Space made it clear that, contrary to its original position, it would not be moving back to Lower Clapton Road. The Council has made it clear that it is committed to continuing to work with Sistah Space to support it to continue to use this space should it change its mind – although this is ultimately a decision for Sistah Space and its trustees to make.
The Council recognises that Sistah Space is keen to identify an alternative property to the one in Lower Clapton Road in the longer term, but has been honest about its limited ability to provide alternative space that meets Sistah Space’s criteria, at subsidised rates. None of the Council’s other voluntary and community sector buildings are currently available, and if any became so, an open, transparent process would be required to ensure fairness to other voluntary organisations.
Sistah Space has now told the Council that it would like to rent the Mare Street shared workspace on commercial terms on a longer term basis. The Council is concerned about the suitability of the workspace in Mare Street for Sistah Space’s sensitive work, due to the likely challenges of keeping vulnerable women safe in what is a shared commercial multi-use workspace. However, as was made clear at the outset, the Council intends to let this building to one single workspace provider to manage, and has confirmed it is happy to introduce Sistah Space to this provider to discuss whether an agreement would be possible.
While Sistah Space is not a refuge, the Council has also repeatedly encouraged the charity to engage with discussions around pan-London refuge provision and asked it to join the regular meetings with other third-sector domestic abuse agencies run by the Council’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Service, so that it can help support women and girls who have contacted Sistah Space.
For detailed information about the Council’s work to support Sistah Space and its offer to the organisation, read the full letter.