Positive directions from
women at the Crossroads
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Positive directions from women at the Crossroads
by Cary Gee, Tribune, Tuesday, November 9th, 2010
More than 30 years ago in London, a group of determined women
squatters chained themselves to the first floor balcony of
Camden Town Hall before unfurling a petition demanding a
permanent home for the women’s centre they had established in
1975 in a building near Euston station.
The women, among whose original demands were “Wages for
Housework”, had formed the charity Women in Dialogue to run the
embryonic centre, the oldest of its kind in the country, but in
1978 were made homeless following redevelopment of the area.
It’s a familiar story that might have ended where it had begun
had it not been for the extraordinary will of founding member
Selma James and her supporters who refused to accept that there
was no need for the kind of centre they envisaged.
After a year in limbo, Ken Livingstone, then Camden council’s
chair of housing, presented the women with the keys to a small
run-down shop at a token rent. The premises became the Kings
Cross Women’s Centre and home to the group for the next 17 years,
until once again redevelopment forced the women into a
succession of churches and youth clubs before a sympathetic
landlord offered premises in Kentish Town. They named the new
centre Crossroads, after a South African squatter town where
women resisted attempts to evict them by apartheid police.
Crossroads remains “a base for all kinds of women, men and
children who refuse their destiny: a life of overwork and the
struggle for survival”.
Throughout this time the number of campaigning organisations
that represent women (and men) of all races, ages and
backgrounds has grown exponentially, as have the number of
people, both locally, and from all over the world, who have been
aided by this remarkable collective.
I first encountered these women some years ago, when I was
privileged to interview Selma James for Tribune, and have
continued to be awed by the commitment, the will and sheer joy
that they bring to their work. So it was thrilling to be invited
to the opening of a brand new centre, just across the road from
their most recent home, in Kentish Town on Saturday. “Brand
new”? The first building the women have managed to buy is
actually nothing of the kind: two draughty old floors of a
former doll factory, with a leaky roof and barely enough kitchen
space to boil a kettle. However, if anyone can turn the place
into a home, these women can.
At a dual celebration – this year also marked Selma James’ 80th
birthday – the Crossroads Women’s Centre launched an appeal for
the £200,000 needed to turn 25 Wolsey Mews into a home fit for
habitation, while maintaining the principles on which Crossroads
was founded. James cites these as accountability to the
grassroots, anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-market, building
across national boundaries and refusing personal ambition.
Abiding by these principles is, says James, her proudest
achievement to date. She is right to feel proud. It has been
anything but easy.
“In 1972, we had no idea what we could do, but we were
determined to find out. With the strategy for change of Invest
in Caring not Killing, we win something every day – life-saving
justice or resources for survivors of rape or racism, for sex
workers or people with disabilities.” Many of those women were
present last weekend to deliver their personal testimonies to
the value of the kind of projects undertaken by women based at
the centre and by their worldwide affiliates who constitute the
Global Women’s Strike.
Whether fighting for opportunity and access for women with
disabilities (Winvisible), for the right of men not to have to
go to war and kill, (Payday Men’s Network) or for the legal (and
physical) protection of sex workers (Nikki from the English
Collective of Prostitutes is truly inspirational), the women
enjoying the entertainment last Saturday evening display a rare
level of commitment, emphatically rejecting the “me, me, me”
society in favour of something altogether more elemental.
In all, more than 15 groups operate from Crossroads, each
offering their own unique services and projects, political,
cultural and educational. Some involve direct-action, others are
more polite, but all make an incalculable difference both to the
volunteers, who lend the centre an air of chaotic efficiency,
and to the recipients of their dedication, and that means just
“We could not have done any of this without the base that the
centre has provided. Now that the Crossroads women have been
able to buy their own premises, the next challenge,” says Selma
James “is to raise the money necessary to do it up and create a
new fully accessible, green and exciting home”. That home is
likely to be needed more now than ever.
Forget Dave Cameron’s “Big Society”. If you want to witness (extra)ordinary
women making a real difference, check out to Crossroads – and
that particularly means legislators. These wise women have
something to teach local councillors and those higher up the
political food chain. What are you waiting for? You might even
get a cup of tea and a slice of delicious homemade cake, once
they have raised enough money to buy a new kitchen.
For information or to make a donation, please visit
Women, Registered charity no. 1134495,
Company limited by guarantee no. 7087291