Southall Black Sisters joins campaigns to save Southall Town Hall from being sold off to corporate and religious bodies. Plans are afoot by Ealing Council to sell Ealing Town Hall to a hotelier and Southall Town Hall to the trustees of the Hindu Temple on Lady Margaret Road. We strongly object to the sell-off for two reasons: firstly, they are being sold to forces that have no track record in enhancing community participation, equality and cohesion and, secondly, because they are vital secular civic spaces which once lost will never be regained.
Our concerns are part of a much wider anxiety about the privatisation and sell-off of key public spaces and community services in Ealing that have come to symbolise inclusion, support and assistance such as Southall Police Station and Ealing Hospital. These spaces are central to the work of many community groups representing the most vulnerable sections of our society who otherwise would not have access to knowledge and information or the opportunity to participate in community events. The demise of democratic and secular spaces will only exacerbate the isolation, inequality and marginalisation that is felt by the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. As one of our users, a survivor of domestic violence, recently said: “it feels as if the local authority is trimming the feathers of a bird and then telling it to fly.”
Letter to Ealing Council
14/16 Uxbridge Road
2nd February 2018
Dear Mr Moore,
Ealing Town Hall – Victoria Hall Trust – NM C-462805
I write to you on behalf of Southall Black Sisters (SBS) regarding Ealing Council’s proposed scheme to sell most of Ealing Town Hall to the hotel operator, Mastcraft. We understand that the Council is seeking to vary the terms of the Victoria Hall Trust covering the memorial hall building containing the Victoria Hall, Princes Hall and ancillary rooms to allow for their disposal, along with the remainder of the Ealing Town Hall site (excluding the council part in the east wing). A consultation process appears to be underway but there is considerable concern that it is flawed in a number of ways. The Council has also turned down a bid from community groups such as Ealing Voice to keep the Town Hall as a community asset which suggests that it has closed its mind to all options other than highly lucrative commercial bids.
Southall Black Sisters is a Black (Asian, African, Caribbean) women’s organisation founded in 1979. For almost 40 years, we have operated a resource centre providing information, advice, advocacy, counselling and support to Black women and children living in the borough. Most women approach us to escape domestic/gender violence and to obtain advice, assistance and support on these and inter-related issues such as homelessness and immigration/asylum problems, poverty, civil/family and criminal proceedings and mental health. We are based in Southall but work with women from all over Ealing and elsewhere.
As a specialist organisation, we are also regularly called upon to assist and advise statutory and non-statutory organisations and professionals in addressing the needs of black and minority women. We are also often called upon to provide expert reports on the background and needs of black and minority women in a range of family, criminal, immigration and other cases and specialist information/training to professionals, researchers, the media and policymakers.
In respect of our policy work, we have been at the forefront of major legal and policy changes regarding domestic violence, forced marriage, honour-based violence and other forms of abuse in the family, immigration and criminal matters. For example, we have worked closely and successfully with the Home Office in reforming immigration and welfare laws regarding victims of domestic violence and access to public funding.
As a charitable organisation that is embedded in the community, we strongly object to the proposed sale of the Town Hall and its subsequent conversion into a hotel on the grounds that it is a vital and invaluable civic space that once lost will not be regained. The Town Hall is integral to our work, and its demise as a community space will have serious repercussions for our service users and for all the residents of Ealing should the sale go ahead. Our concerns are particularly heightened in a context where other local civic spaces such as Southall Town Hall are also the subject of a sale to a religious organisation that has no track record on enhancing community participation, equality and cohesion.
The Victoria Hall, the Princes Hall and their ancillary rooms in Ealing Town Hall are the only available spaces for us to use for meetings and events that are vital to community integration and cohesion. These spaces are central to the work of many community groups representing the most vulnerable sections of our society who otherwise would not be able to have access to knowledge and information or engage in community events. In other words, the shrinking of such spaces can only exacerbate their isolation, marginalisation and disenfranchisement.
Over the years, SBS has held many community meetings/workshops/seminars and social events at the Town Hall and organised protests and demonstrations on its steps in the spirit of democratic and civic engagement. Such events have included participating in White Ribbon Day, where we set up public stalls, activities and film screenings as part of a national campaign to end violence against women and girls. In 1997, we held the now historical packed out launch of Kiranjit Ahluwahlia’s book ‘Circle of Light’, based on the story of Kiranjit’s fight for justice which was supported by SBS. It was part of the wider feminist campaign to highlight the discriminatory nature of the criminal justice system for women who killed their abusers following abuse and violence. Both of these events mobilised all sections of the borough for the benefit of women facing domestic and honour-based violence.
As part of our broader work, it is essential that we have easily accessible spaces to meet and to provide information and support that empower women in Ealing. These spaces are vital to our work in protecting women, preventing violence and prosecuting abusers.
As the only central public space in the borough, the Town Hall provides a safe space not only for our users but also for all the residents of Ealing. We are aware that it is also regularly used for events that provide benefits, housing and careers advice. These events are particularly important for people who are not able to access the internet or speak English or who are simply not able to access the information in any other way. The ability to meet other members of their community face-to-face and enjoy events is increasingly important at a time where rates of isolation and mental health problems are visibly increasing. The borough’s increasingly diverse population is estimated to grow by 25% over the next decade, and it is vital that current purpose of the Victoria Hall Trust should continue to encourage the integration and peaceful co-existence of the borough’s growing population.
Ealing Council has not put forward any other viable option in respect of public spaces that can serve all sections of the community. Its demise as a democratic and secular space will have a disproportionate impact on the most powerless in our borough who cannot afford to meet in more commercial venues.
All our service users object to the proposal to sell the Town Hall. They are particularly concerned about the steady removal of safe and neutral civic spaces that enable them to access information and support without fear and judgement. One woman recounted how the Town Hall had been a vital space for her when she was fleeing a situation of violence and her life was at risk. She was not able to wait in the police station as it was not safe for her, and it was suggested that she wait in the Town Hall for a refuge worker to meet her and take her to a refuge. The need for centrally safe spaces was reiterated by many of our service users who said that the lack of such welcoming public spaces would have a negative impact on them. As one user said:
“When the door is open and you know it is safe, that is something very important for a town. It shouldn’t be shut down for entertainment purposes.”
Many of our service users had gone to the Town Hall when they were not sure where else to go for help and support. It was central and therefore accessible and above all, it was seen as a symbol of help and assistance. They felt that the Town Hall played a vital role in signposting them to the services they needed. With the closure of this space, our users felt that there would be increasing uncertainty and fear as to where to go for assistance. Many also felt that it was important they had a physical place to go to locate their local Councillors in times of need.
It cannot be stressed enough that their concerns are part of a much wider anxiety about the closing of important and central public spaces and community services in Ealing that have come to symbolise support and assistance such as Southall Police Station and Ealing Hospital. One of our users, a survivor of domestic violence stated that their isolation from family and community was now being exacerbated by the removal of public buildings and the services they house and upon which they are so reliant. The removal of a safe public space felt to her as if the local authority was “trimming the feathers of a bird and then telling it to fly.”
Another user aptly summed up the feelings of many of the women that we serve in this way:
“There is a reason why the Town Hall was built in the first place. The Council are getting rid of it without thinking about how it will impact the people who live around it.”
We urge you not to grant permission for variation of the Trust to enable the disposal of Victoria Hall. We must preserve Ealing Town Hall for the people of Ealing. It is vital and valued community asset that must remain intact for the benefit of all the people in Ealing.
We look forward to your response.
Southall Black Sisters
CC Julian Bell – Leader of Ealing Council
Will French – Ealing Voice