Living History – 40th Anniversary of the Crossroads Women’s Centre
By Cristel Amiss and Didi Rossi 22.01.2015
The multi-racial Crossroads Women Centre, which began life as a Wages for Housework Campaign (WFH) squat near Euston station in 1975, is celebrating its 40th anniversary. A much-used drop-in and community resource, the Centre now hosts 15 groups with their own services and projects.
Selma James who founded WFH in 1972 and co-ordinates the Global Women’s Strike, remembers being delighted to find a building to meet: “129 Drummond Street had been first squatted by a radical bookshop which passed it on when they knew we were looking for a place. The whole neighbourhood was squatted. It was a diverse inner-city community. This first Women’s Centre carried a big sign in the shop front window – Wages for Housework for All Women from the Government. There was a great community spirit.”
Bangladeshi mothers who were squatters were among the first to drop in, some protesting against being injected without consent with Depo-Provera, the dangerous contraceptive. They wanted help to get secure council housing. Together we won. We worked together again against racist attacks in their new homes.
Several women’s organisations formed at 129 – Black Women for Wages for Housework (now Women of Colour in the Global Women Strike), the English Collective of Prostitutes, Wages Due Lesbians (now Queer Strike) and Women Against Rape (WAR). When we were evicted in 1977, we squatted 138 Drummond St. It was bigger and WAR organised its first public rape trial from there.
Evicted again in 1978, we walked into Camden Town Hall; one woman chained herself to the first floor balcony and dramatically unfolded yards and yards of a petition with thousands of signatures from local people demanding a women’s centre.
Ken Livingstone, then Chair of Housing, agreed to give us a small rundown empty shop at a pepper corn rent – 71 Tonbridge St became the King’s Cross Women’s Centre. Among many initiatives to come out of there was the 12-day occupation of the Holy Cross Church by the English Collective of Prostitutes protesting against police illegality and racism.
In 1995 Tonbridge St was redeveloped. Unlike centres which closed down when funding stopped, we were saved by the commitment of volunteers and supporters who never had funding. In 1997 we found premises in Kentish Town, and became Crossroads in honour of the women squatters of Crossroads, South Africa, who had refused to be moved.
In 2012 after a huge fundraising effort, we moved into 25 Wolsey Mews, owned and run by the charity Crossroads Women. The Centre is busier than ever. Women asylum seekers of the All African Women’s Group meet bi-weekly, often working with Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Legal Action for Women. Single Mothers’ Self-Defence and WinVisible (women with visible and invisible disabilities) defend women’s benefits, and the Global Women’s Strike campaigns for a living wage for mothers and other carers – internationally. Payday men, ready to work with women in a mutually accountable way, are also based here, as are holistic health practitioners.
Many comment on how welcomed they feel, reflecting the Centre’s collectivity. It brings together women (and men) from all walks of life, stressing women’s contribution, beginning with the work of caring which makes society.
Celebrate with us tomorrow, with the premiere of a short film about the centre, an exhibition and live music with the legendary pianist June Turvey.
Friday 23 January 2015 6-9 pm, 25 Wolsey Mews, Kentish Town, NW5 2DX