The only community-led women’s project in Lambeth was given two weeks’ notice to quit last week by Stockwell Primary School, who manage their offices at 166a Stockwell Rd.
Supporters of the Lambeth Women’s Project (LWP) are holding night vigils in Windrush Square until the eviction date next week, banging pots and pans to make as much noise as possible in protest at the eviction.
The LWP has been in the now-listed building for over thirty years, but has been sharing the space in an agreement with next-door Stockwell Primary School for the past year. The agreement was brokered by the owners of the building, Lambeth Council. Stockwell Primary School is paid £12,000 a year by the council to manage the site.
Lambeth Women’s Project has use of a resource room, music room and office. Counselling services for women also take place in the building.
But a breakdown in relations between the school and the LWP have led to the school ordering the eviction of the women’s project.
Ego Ahaiwe, LWP coordinator, said: “Since we’ve been back in the building, the school has been consistently making it impossible for us to deliver our services. We don’t feel we’re really welcome there – our chairs have been thrown away, posters destroyed.”
A press release from Stockwell Primary School stated: “This situation is regrettable but we believe we have no other option. We have been trying to engage the Lambeth Young Women’s Project for over a year to resolve shared use and funding issues, but to no avail.
“They do not respond to letters or emails and terminated a meeting abruptly before any resolutions were reached. Our paramount concern is the safety and well-being of the young children in the care of Stockwell Primary School and Children’s Centre and in order to protect them and the space they need, it has become necessary to take this action.”
One of the main sticking points between the two organisations has been financial. LWP claim that Lambeth Council paid the £12,000 maintenance money to them instead of the school by mistake last April.
Ego Ahaiwe insisted they only noticed the error when it was pointed out to them later in the year, by which time the money had already been spent. She said they have now paid that money back in full. “All year we haven’t really had a telephone and we’ve only just got the internet and phone back up and running”, said Ahaiwe.
As a result of their financial tribulations, LWP were also taken off the Charity Commission Register last year. LWP responded in a statement: “Please note that LWP was unable to pay the accountant to get the accounts to the charity commission on time which is why we have temporarily been removed from the register. Running the project has been a mostly volunteer based, uphill labour of love for quite some time. There is very little money around. We are not hiding anything and will be happy to publish our accounts when we are able to.”
The decision on whether the LWP can stay remains with the school. However, the council is also unhappy with the project for refusing to take on a commission to run extra services for women in the borough.
A spokesperson for Lambeth Council said: “Our solution was to suggest co-locating a number of other services to support vulnerable women with Lambeth Women’s Project. We saw this as real opportunity to help build LWP’s capacity and provide holistic support for women in the borough, but despite our best efforts and negotiations with LWP which have spanned the last decade, we have so far been unsuccessful in reaching agreement.”
LWP felt they could not take on the work in their current state and did not have enough space to deliver the services appropriately.
It is unclear what will happen to the project if it is evicted this month.
“Without a home for the LWP, we lose 11 organisations which will be homeless”, said Ahaiwe. “Currently we work with four groups that deal with domestic violence, as well as ethnic women’s groups, the Brixton Women’s Institution and we have a young women’s service and offer women’s health services and arts and music.
“I’m heartbroken and gutted. We should be thriving at this point, not surviving.”