This afternoon, the Council has asked Sistah Space to return to its registered premises in Clapton, following requested refurbishment of the building, and served notice on the shared commercial workspace in Mare Street being used on a rent-free, temporary basis by the organisation.
Sistah Space had been using the commercial workspace since December 2019, with 24/7 security and other costs covered by the Council, while the Council refurbished its Clapton premises to a specification agreed with, and at the request of the charity – including improved security and emergency escape routes. The Council has always planned to let the shared commercial workspace on Mare Street to a single workspace provider to manage, and was open and frank about this with Sistah Space when it agreed the temporary arrangements last year.
Sistah Space signed up to the arrangement lasting until 31 March at the latest, after the Council identified the temporary space to allow continuity of the charity’s services while it completed the requested refurbishment work at the Clapton office. The Council understands Sistah Space’s concerns about moving during the coronavirus pandemic, which is why since March it has allowed the charity to continue to stay rent-free in its current temporary premises and offered to work with staff to support a safe return. It has made it repeatedly clear that this was a temporary arrangement.
Asking Sistah Space to now return to its refurbished premises in Clapton, that it has used since 2016 at a subsidised rent of £1,600 per year, is a last resort, but follows six months of offers to make further security improvements to its Clapton building, help it move safely with the support of the Council’s Public Health team or better understand its concerns.
The Council has offered to make further improvements to this building, such as installing roller shutters that can be closed electronically from inside the premises, intruder and panic alarms, and CCTV, or discuss specific concerns about the premises, but has not received any further details or engagement from Sistah Space to take forward those concerns. This offer remains open, including help to ensure Sistah Space’s work meets coronavirus guidelines.
The charity provides advocacy, advice and educational classes to women and girls of African and Carribean heritage affected by domestic violence, but is not a refuge and does not provide accommodation.
The Council does not let buildings at commercial rates to make a profit – all income generated is directly invested into frontline services, including the Council’s own Domestic Abuse Intervention Service. After a decade of austerity and cuts in Government funding, letting buildings in this way is a vital source of revenue to support Council services.
The Council continues to invest more than most other local authorities in supporting people affected by domestic abuse. The Council’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Service is still operating a full service throughout the coronavirus pandemic and has increased its capacity to provide vital support, advice and help to those in need at this time. This is also supplemented by specialist domestic abuse and sexual exploitation provision provided through London Councils – the umbrella organisation for the capital’s local authorities – which Hackney Council also funds.
Hackney Council funds one of the highest number of refuge spaces in London, and more women approach refuges in Hackney than almost anywhere else in the capital. For more information or if you need support, visit the Domestic Abuse page.