Vision of refuge for Rooms of Our Own

Established in 2012, the social enterprise has developed a model to create a safe women’s space.

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With Women’s Aid stats recently revealing one in four women will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime, research points to the time being now to provide a haven for victims to flee.

Taking inspiration from twentieth century author, Virginia Woolf, social enterprise ‘Rooms of our Own’, contemplates the need for women to have ‘A Room of One’s Own’, to grow and succeed.

Many previous centres have been funded by local authority grants, but the last decade has seen a rapid diminishing of a grant giving environment, forcing many hubs to close as a result.

Established in 2012, social enterprise ‘Rooms of our Own’ has developed a model to create a women’s space in a bid to provide women’s organisations the access to a safe and affordable premises to meet, network and campaign.

Wendy Davis, a director on the board played an instrumental role in establishing the enterprise.

She said: “Women’s Resource Centre estimates we have lost 75% of women’s organisations in the past decade, many because of premises or other funding issues.

“2012 saw a massive international campaign to save the wonderful Women’s Library in Whitechapel, and when we lost this battle, a group of us decided there had to be another way.”

She added that they worked with a range of experts to create a model that worked for them, and in 2013, they were offered the opportunity to buy a disused car park in Walthamstow, which they agreed.

“We got a £165,000 grant from the GLA, engaged architects, found a female developer, and had over 40 organisations signed up to take space in the building.

“We carried out detailed research and collaborative meetings with a range of women’s organisations in the borough, and from this, we created our brief for the proposed building.”

Wendy added that from this research, one of the greatest demands was for a hot-desking area with a creche, as many women had expressed a desperation for a couple of hours each day to study, start their own businesses or catch up on admin.

She said: “Several women’s charities wanted offices in the building in a safe, women-only space.

“It seemed a multi-purpose space would be needed for yoga, dance, theatre, and there was also demand from local food-growers for a green roof and affordable meeting rooms for the many campaign groups in the borough.”

Following the May 2014 elections, the group’s sale was withdrawn by a newly elected cabinet member, leading to a year-long campaign which drew support from local women’s groups, but to ‘no avail’.

“Since then we have been talking with a range of local authorities and public bodies trying to find an alternative site, but in these times of austerity such bodies tend to seek quick sales at the highest price from private developers,” said Wendy.

Wendy adds that: “[the group] are also disappointed that the huge movement towards Community Led Housing does not seem to include Community Led Workspace or Community Led Community Centres or Community Led Energy Provision.

“Of course, there is a desperate need for genuinely affordable housing, but it will be a sad sort of community if we only build housing.

“The people who live in the houses need green space, health buildings, transport, schools, employment opportunities and of course, community centres.”

Rooms of our Own is now seeking to purchase new site, preferably in north or east London, to deliver the project and for more women to get involved.

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