Background : Our multi-racial Crossroads Women’s Centre began as a squat at 129 Drummond Street near Euston station, London, in 1975. It 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 – including many homeless Bangladeshi families living in squats. There was a great community spirit. This first Women’s Centre was opened by the Wages for Housework Campaign, and carried a big sign in the shop front window – Wages for Housework for all women from the government.
The Bangladeshi mothers were among the first to drop in. Some were protesting against being injected without their consent with DepoProvera, the harmful long-term contraception. As the area was being redeveloped they also wanted help against evictions and to ensure their families had secure Council housing before leaving their squats. This was won. But once in their new homes we worked with them again to get protection from serious racist attacks and ended up in an occupation of the Town Hall exposing the racism of the housing department – the squatting community had been much safer and supportive.
Several women’s organisations were formed at 129 Drummond Street by women using the Centre – Black Women for Wages for Housework, the English Collective of Prostitutes, Wages Due Lesbians, and Women Against Rape. When we were evicted in early 1977 we squatted 138 Drummond Street, just down the road. It was a bigger space and Women Against Rape organised its first march and public trial from there.
In 1978 we again had to defend the Women’s Centre from eviction. After efforts to open another squat in Albany Street failed, a determined contingent of women of different races, ages and backgrounds walked into Camden Town Hall to claim a new space. One of us chained herself to the firstfloor balcony and dramatically unfolded yards and yards of a petition with thousands of signatures from local people demanding a women’s centre. We had wide local support from other squatters, community groups and small businesses. Some of them picketed in our support on the Town Hall steps.
After a year in limbo, Ken Livingstone, then Camden’s Chair of Housing, agreed to give us a small rundown empty shop at 71 Tonbridge Street, behind Camden Town Hall, at a token rent – an official squat as it was then called as in practice the rent was not collected. It became the King’s Cross Women’s Centre, was run by Housewives in Dialogue (a charity formed by the Wages for Housework Campaign), and was a base for a growing number of organisations.
Homophobic graffiti appeared on the front of our Centre on Tonbridge Street after one of several attacks by the National Front; there was also an attempted arson attack. Again the local community joined the 500-strong march we organised to clear the NF out of the area – they were based in a local hotel. Our slogan was: ‘Share the housework, sweep out the Nazis.’ In 1995 Tonbridge Street was also redeveloped. We couldn’t pay the expected commercial rent, and despite months of local protest and legal action we were evicted. Unlike centres which closed down when funding stopped, we were saved by the dedication and commitment of volunteers and supporters who had always had to manage on a shoestring. We spent over a year at a youth centre and a church hall which kindly gave us space in their premises.
We finally moved into 230 Kentish Town Rd in 1997, thanks to a sympathetic landlord. We changed our name to Crossroads Women’s Centre to remind us of our old King’s Cross home and to remember the brave women of the squatter town of Crossroads, South Africa, who refused to be moved, keeping alive the struggle against apartheid through the hardest times.
In 2010 we were able to buy larger premises across the road at 25 Wolsey Mews, NW5 2DX. The 19th century building was originally stables, then a dolls’ factory and a carpenters’ workshop. Buying our own building was made possible by the great generosity and commitment of volunteers, core users and supporters. While in recent decades people have been encouraged to accumulate personal wealth, a number of volunteers preferred to donate or lend from their modest inheritance or savings towards buying the Centre. The dedicated work they contribute is their priority. Funders topped up this huge contribution. In 2012 after another huge fundraising effort to renovate the building we moved into the new Crossroads Women’s Centre.