Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town celebrates 40 years
fighting for women’s rights
Founder Selma James outside the first Women's Centre in Kentish
trailblazing women’s centre that began life in a squat near
Euston station is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Crossroads Women’s Centre
is now comfortably settled into its permanent home in Wolsey
Mews, Kentish Town, but its history is one of struggle. The
centre was first founded as the Wages for Housework (WFH)
campaign back in 1975. It is reportedly the oldest women’s
centre remaining in London and possibly in the UK.
Its first premises in a
squat at 129 Drummond Street in Euston became a base for a
diverse range of women’s groups, and many organisations were
conceived in the original headquarters, including the English
Collective of Prostitutes and Women Against Rape.
Both groups still meet at
Crossroads today, and the centre is now a base for 16 diverse
independent organisations with their own projects and services,
including Legal Action for Women, Single Mothers’ Self-Defence,
and disability campaign group WinVisible.
Selma James, 84, who
founded WFH in 1972 and co-ordinates the Global Women’s Strike,
said: “I didn’t think it would still be going 40 years later. I
thought women would have wages for housework years before that.
I had absolutely no idea that we would lose single mother
benefit and that child benefit would be threatened.
“But I’m pleased with how
the centre has progressed. Not only that, I’m pleased that the
fundamental principles haven’t shifted.”
Crossroads’ journey from
Drummond Street to Wolsey Mews has not been without its
In 1977 the women were
evicted from their original premises, and moved into a squat
further up the road, at 138 Drummond Street.
WFH did not stay in the
new property for long – evicted again in 1978 when the area was
redeveloped. Campaigners walked into Camden Town Hall with one
woman dramatically chaining herself to a first floor balcony in
an attempt to gain council support, from where she unveiled
yards and yards of petition signatures from local people
demanding a women’s centre.
The protest worked and
then chair of housing, Ken Livingstone, offered the group a
small run-down empty shop for a peppercorn rent.
WFH moved into 71
Tonbridge Street, and became known as King’s Cross Women’s
One key initiative to
come out of the centre during this time was the 12-day
occupation of Holy Cross Church, in King’s Cross, by the English
Collective of Prostitutes, who were protesting against police
illegality and racism.
More upheaval came in
1995, when Tonbridge Street was redeveloped. But the centre was
saved thanks to the commitment of volunteers finding a home in a
youth centre and a church hall.
It was in 1996 that the
centre first moved to premises in Kentish Town and became
Crossroads. It was named in honour of the women squatters of
Crossroads, South Africa, who had refused to be moved.
But it was only in 2012,
after a huge fundraising and renovation effort, that Crossroads
was able to move into its permanent, larger home at 25 Wolsey
Mews, which is owned and run by the charity Crossroads Women.
Today, Crossroads brings
together women from different ages, backgrounds and communities
to share experiences, and learn from and support each other. The
centre is now a well-used drop-in and community resource centre,
and a place of safety for vulnerable and low-income women.
Men ready to work with
women in a mutually supportive way are also welcomed.
The centre is busier than
ever. Women asylum seekers of the All African Women’s Group meet
twice weekly. The Global Women’s Strike campaigns for a living
wage for mothers and other carers internationally.
The centre’s landmark
birthday was celebrated with an evening of entertainment,
featuring a premiere of a short film about its history made by a
group of young people, an exhibition, and live music with the
legendary pianist June Turvey.
Ms James said: “What was
striking to me was that we had real friends, not only people who
came to pat us on the back, but people who came because they
loved what we did, because they felt part of it, and felt it was
Around 150 attended, with
standing room only left for latecomers.
Petra Dando, of Camden
Association of Street Properties, who has campaigned alongside
Crossroads against the government’s welfare reforms, said: “It’s
very difficult to convey just how much they do for people in the
“I think what’s unique
about the centre is the really hands-on approach.
“They really care about
the people they try to help. They don’t let go until they’ve
done their best to get a result.”