“Roses are red, Violets are blue, Hackney council, We are counting on you.” How’s that for a love poem?
On a mild Valentine’s evening, members of feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut did what they do best: making the most of the occasion. Members of the UK-based movement have descended on Hackney Town Hall in East London to demand the borough’s mayor, Philip Glanville, fulfil the promises he made to them last summer to provide more safe, secure housing for domestic violence survivors in the area.
Filling the square surrounding the council building with heart-shaped balloons, and blasting tunes from Beyoncé’s Run the World (Girls) to London rising-star rapper Nadia Rose, they’re making plenty of noise, while kids from the neighbourhood dance at the top of the stairs to the applause of the protesters. It’s certainly one way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
Activists have put their evening plans on hold to make a point: not everyone is celebrating a happy and safe relationship: domestic violence will affect 1 in 4 women in their lifetime. And right now, Sisters Uncut believe Hackney Council are failing to support survivors.
The situation is getting worse for those experiencing domestic violence in Hackney, as further cuts to services are coupled with the London-wide housing crisis. In 2015, domestic violence was cited as the reason behind 12% of homelessness applications in England, while 52% of domestic violence survivors cannot afford to leave an abusive partner, according to Woman’s Aid. On top of that, local domestic violence charity Hackney Refuge is forced to turn away two in three women in need of housing.
As the chant of ‘Philip Glanville, you’re breaking our hearts’ echoes through the square, the protesters unleash their now-iconic purple smoke, getting neighbours and participants alike to sign a letter asking Glanville to make good on those promises. These letters were put it in an envelope addressed to him and thrown into the town hall’s post box. It’s unlikely these were love notes he was expecting, but it’s further proof that Sisters Uncut won’t stop demanding to be heard until they’re actually listened to.
“Can everyone go to the letterbox and tell the mayor happy Valentine’s Day?”, someone calls out from a megaphone jokingly.
Last summer, the group turned an empty local council flat into a community centre, in which they ran breakfast clubs and free workshops. Back then they met with the Mayor twice, and made it clear they wouldn’t be leaving until their demands were met.
Glanville agreed to fill all empty flats in that estate; to commission research on the introduction of hostels to safely house women and non-binary people; and to place survivors of domestic violence solely in council-run hostels or self-contained accommodation, where he would ensure all hostel staff had been properly trained.
Now, the Sisters are stating loudly and clearly that none of those promises are being fulfilled. “We are not leaving vulnerable families on Marion Court to fend for themselves,” one of the organisers of the group’s East End branch tells me. “We are here to fight for them and to fight for everyone in Hackney who’s currently suffering from the cuts that have been made by the council. And also against the social cleansing and re-generation that’s happening in Hackney.”
Speaking to Huck however, Granville argues some of Sisters Uncut’s claims simply aren’t correct. “We take our duty to victims of domestic violence extremely seriously,” he explains, “and do everything we can to make sure they get the right support and appropriate accommodation.”
“That’s why, despite government cuts to our funding and unlike many other councils, we increased spending on domestic violence support last year, as well as funding the third highest number of refuge spaces in London.”
Sisters Uncut believe this just isn’t good enough, and neither do many survivors. With the chants continuing and couples en route to dates stopping to show their support , a series of messages are projected onto the town hall facade. It seems this struggle is set to continue, as central government cuts and a seemingly never ending housing crisis mean the most vulnerable in our communities find themselves with even less security.