The women’s only prison, Holloway, was closed in 2016 due to “the size and poor design making it a very difficult establishment to run” and sold to developers to turn into housing. One of the main conditions of winning the redevelopment bid was to make sure there was a promise of more affordable homes at social rent and a specific Women’s Building.
The women’s only prison, Holloway, was closed in 2016 due to “the size and poor design making it a very difficult establishment to run” and sold to developers to turn into housing. One of the main conditions of winning the redevelopment bid was to make sure there was a promise of more affordable homes at social rent and a specific Women’s Building. The aim of the Women’s building is to try and replace some of the lost services to women and the community that the prison previously supplied. There is also a focus on making sure the women’s history is recognized and influences the development.
The closure of Holloway Prison was a surprise announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne in 2016. At the time, the policy was that many of these old buildings form the Victorian era were no longer fit for purpose and costing too much to try and adapt. So, some prisons were sold off to create the funds to build brand new modern prisons. Holloway provided support to many women over the years giving them access to services not available in the community. They were able to access mental health services to work on their addiction issues, help with their domestic abuse situations as well as access to regular services like hairdressers, a gym, mother and baby units. They were provided with a safe environment that created a community and aimed to help these women not reoffend and get their life back on track. All of this was lost when the prison closed.
There was also the long history of the prison and its association with social movements that needed to be considered and remembered. Holloway was the location of the imprisonment and hunger striking by the militant suffragettes including Emmeline Pankhurst. It is important that this history along with the experiences of the other women inmates are not forgotten.
When the contractors put in their bids for the development, Islington Council added a Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which outlined requirements the development needed to include to win the bid. One of the priorities was to have 60 per cent affordable homes with 42 per cent at the social rent rate. 5 per cent out of the social rent share is set aside for a Women’s building. A dedicated building that would provide housing and services to women who have been affected by the criminal justice system. The planned proposed proportion of social housing is unprecedented in a central London development of its size and something Islington Council fought hard to secure. This share is set to try to replicate some of the services that has been lost with the closure of the prison. The developer, Peabody, is currently holding consultations with the community and local area to discover what is most important to them to focus resources on the issues required and wanted most. There are ideas for a space where there can be different displays of art, sculpture, written word etc. and input from former prisoner’s work to be displayed. There are also plans for a Women’s Building Garden that should be a place of memory and personal reflection. A collaborative artwork installation will allow former prisoners to make their mark on the space
The Women’s building also acknowledges all the women who have suffered over the years in the prison and find a way to respectfully honour the history of the site. Currently there are discussion being held about the best way to memorialise the historical significance to women the prison was. Peabody have hired a local consultant, Roz Currie, a former curator at the Islington Museum, who had organized an exhibition on Holloway in 2018, to help organize and co-ordinate some focus groups with the prison’s former inmates and employees, activists, and local residents to get a holistic view.