London’s only specialist domestic violence service for women of African and Caribbean heritage is facing eviction from its premises, and claims it has had to turn away survivors amid a dispute with the local authority.
Hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters gathered outside Hackney town hall on Friday amid fears Sistah Space will be forced to return to its “dangerous” former building next month, amid the pandemic.
The charity was moved into temporary accommodation in October last year, after complaining to Hackney council that the “shopfront” it had been placed in for the previous four years was derelict, unsafe and had electrical defects.
The local authority says Sistah Space agreed to return to its former location – a claim the charity denies – following a programme of refurbishment which it said cost £35,000.
A spokeswoman added that the council will allow Sistah Space to stay in its current temporary accommodation “until at least the end of July”, and understands the charity’s concerns about moving during the Covid-19 crisis.
The founder of Sistah Space, Ngozi Fulani, said the council’s claims have sparked a barrage of hate mail, prompting it to operate a reduced service amid security concerns.
“We get a lot of calls every day … they range from information about non-molestation orders to: ‘He’s at my door, he is going to kill me,” she said. “We are only able to respond to calls that are the most dangerous.”
Fulani said the charity’s former building remains unsuitable, despite renovations, as it is based in a dangerous area – known locally as “The Murder Mile” – and its exit backs on to a space frequented by squatters and drug users.
She is calling on the council to allow the charity to stay in its current premises until March, when it is hoped the threat of Covid-19 will be reduced. The charity has already lost a member of its team to the virus, she added.
“They are putting money before black lives,” Fulani said.
Morgan Jones, from the direct action group Sisters Uncut who jointly coordinated Friday’s protest, said: “Hackney council evicting Sistah Space highlights their hypocrisy when it comes to anti-racism.
“They say ‘Black Lives Matter’, but Sistah Space provides life-saving services and the council’s decision to evict them is putting black women’s lives in danger.
“Black women survivors need Sistah Space’s support and deserve a place of safety to recover and heal from violence.”
Sistah Space was founded following the murder of Valerie Forde and her 22-month-old baby by her ex-partner in 2014. The case was investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission over reports that police treated calls in the days leading up to her death as a threat to property, not life.
“Sistah Space does incredible work to help communities of African heritage affected by domestic abuse, which is why we support their work,” a Hackney council spokeswoman said.
“We recognise the clear disproportionate impact of coronavirus on black, Asian and other communities with protected characteristics, and have called on the government to do more to investigate this.
“Although Sistah Space had agreed to move back to their new premises once refurbishment was complete, we understand their concerns about moving at this time and have offered to extend their current temporary arrangements until at least the end of July. We’ll continue to monitor this situation.”