Activists from the campaign group Sisters Uncut have occupied an empty council flat in Homerton in protest against the lack of social housing in Hackney for victims of domestic violence.
The feminist group seized the Marian Court flat last Saturday, following a rowdy demonstration against cuts to domestic violence services outside Hackney Town Hall.
It claims that a “scarcity of secure social housing” and “deep cuts” to the funding of refuges means victims of domestic violence regularly have nowhere to go.
On the balcony outside the flat is a large banner, reading “2/3 turned away”.
According to a 2013-2015 Women’s Aid report, more than 60 per cent of applications to women’s refuges in Hackney are unsuccessful.
At the same time, a Freedom of Information request has revealed that 1,047 council-owned residential properties in Hackney lie empty, such as the one the group currently occupies.
Sarah Kwei became involved with the group after becoming disillusioned with her job as a domestic violence support worker.
She said: “If a [domestic violence] perpetrator knows where you live then you have to leave in order to be safe. With refuge spaces being cut and with there being no council housing, leaving is becoming less and less of an option and is putting women’s lives at serious risk.
“There are lots of empty properties in the borough on the estates and so it just seemed obvious to reclaim one.”
The all-female group, which became famous for storming the Suffragette film premiere and dying the Trafalgar Square fountains blood red, has also warned that the Housing and Planning Act, which became law in May, will “increase homelessness and polarise communities”.
According to figures obtained by former Greater London Assembly member Darren Johnson in February, Hackney is set to lose 915 socially-rented homes as a result of estate regeneration in the coming years.
“There’s no housing but also they’re demolishing council estates through estate regeneration so we felt really outraged by it so that’s why we’ve taken this place,” Kwei said.
Sisters Uncut is convinced that direct action is the best way to draw attention to domestic violence, and draws on the success of other branches of Sisters Uncut around the country.
The protesters say their actions in transforming an empty flat into a ‘women-only space’ merely echo how the first women’s refuges came into existence.
“The first women’s refuge was a squat,” Kwei said. “So we’re having to go back to the beginning really and provide safe spaces through taking space.”
The group claims to have the support of residents in neighbouring flats, and is engaging in community outreach work by holding evening workshops centred on domestic violence, as well as a breakfast club for children every morning.
Hackney Council was approached for comment but had not replied by time of publication.
/ 12 July, 2016