‘Such a significant site’: Campaigners unhappy with plans for women’s building at former Holloway prison say they might create their own

What the new development could look like

Campaigners who want a dedicated women’s building on the site of Holloway prison are considering raising money to create it themselves.

Niki Gibbs from Reclaim Holloway and the women’s building group of Community Plan for Holloway said: “If we have to buy it, we will buy it.”

The prison closed in 2016 after 164 years and the Ministry of Justice sold the 10-acre site for £82m.

Planning permission was approved this month for 985 homes on the site.

Gibbs said the space earmarked by developers Peabody for the Women’s Building is too small. Campaigners want to create a venue that will support future generations.

“We want all the women’s organisations to come under one roof,” she said.

“We want a standalone building as a proper legacy. Women have had their lives changed on that site. It’s such as significant site for women.

“We could have something really amazing there.”

Supporters of a standalone Women’s Building include Dr Helen Pankhurst, the great-grandaughter of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who was force-fed at Holloway prison.

She was one of the signatories of an open letter telling London Mayor Sadiq Khan: “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide a stable home to sustain London’s services for women.”

The call to buy land or a building on the site comes after the £400m pound redevelopment of the prison site into homes, a park and women’s building was approved by Islington Council earlier this month.

The Town Hall’s executive has just agreed to provide £2.9m to fit out the Women’s Building after housing association Peabody told the planning committee it could not fund it.

The location of the building – designed to help women who have experience of the criminal justice centre – is earmarked between two blocks of flats on Camden Road.

Gibbs said a better site would be at the back of the former prison, near Penderyn Way.

Peabody said it will offer the Women’s Building at a peppercorn rent to the organisation that moves in, saving them an estimated  £220,000 to £300,000 a year.

The council will give out up to £2.9m of the £13m community infrastructure levy Peabody is paying for the site overall.

However it will only pay the money if Peabody’s quest to raise the money fails.

As part of the planning agreement, the developer has “to take every practical step to secure alternative sources of funding”.

Gibbs said the battle for the Women’s Building is not over and said the Ministry of Justice and Greater London Authority could help fund a standalone building offering rehabilitation for women.

“It’s completely pointless to talk about fitting it out if it’s not fit for purpose,” she added.

The plan for the former prison will now be considered by Sadiq Khan as it is a major site.

Gibbs wants him to take a close look at the scheme.