Origins of Essex Road Women's Centre

Scope and Content

Comprises of a newsletter outlining the history and purpose of the Essex Road Women's Centre, c. 1973. The newsletter is organised around the following headings:

* 'Background - York Way Women's Centre': Documents the development of the centre from its origins at the York Way Women's Centre in Camden. Outlines the operational intent of the Centre: firstly as a place for interaction with local women's groups, secondly as a base for the co-ordination of activities throughout Islington.

* 'Community Relations': Includes an evaluation of the problems encountered at York Way. Sites the location of the Centre as a major contributing factor to the failing. Notes the decision to close and re-evaluate through a series of visits to and discussions of the function of Women's Centres.

* 'New Horizons': Relates to the process by which the new Centre at Essex Road was established. States that a large meeting took place which encompassed a variety of political and activist groups concerned with squatting and housing, women's collectives, claimant's union, agitation around prisons, community childcare, health and Marxist feminism.

* Discussion on the Functions of the Women's Centre: Learning good practice from the mistakes at York Way. Notes the disagreement about the function of the Centre - should the Centre provide a neutral space for women or should it become an active participant in public grass roots campaigning.

* 'Essex Road Shop front': Introduction of the site at Essex Road. Owned by a woman involved in the York Way Centre. Rationalisation of the use of the space. Describes a large front window to accommodate campaigning - begins with Women and Health. Outlines the premise for the campaign - to improve services for women at clinics, hospitals and GP Surgeries. Militant issues are incorporated but the emphasis remains on a more inclusive mode of operation.

* 'Knowing How to Grow': Relates to the initial stages of the Essex Road Centre. Includes information on the preparatory meetings including the need to accommodate new women into the decision making process. Charts the division of the main body of women into specific focus groups; housing, employment, health and childcare. The focus groups function as research bodies until the concretisation of specific action plans at which point the Centre as a collective becomes involved. The Centre's opening times are specified as two days a week, with a plan to increase once staffing levels are improved.

* 'Contacting the Local People': Links with local tenant's association. Outlines the dispute between those separatists that see the Centre as solely for the use of women and the majority view that this would alienate local people and contravene the spirit of cooperation. The tenant's association is therefore invited to use the space. There is a suggestion that it might also be made available for use by local children once a week.

* 'Political Problems': Recognises the difficulty of working with a variety of political stances both internally within the collective and externally within the community. Identifies the potential for class divisions between the group and local women. Outlines the need to politicise users as well as provide practical support.

* 'Aims': Lays out the principles that define the Essex Road Women's Centre. The Centre is politically situated within the dual politics of gender and class. The motivation behind the Centre is to agitate and organise the struggle against the oppression of working class women.

* 'What Role Can We Play': Imagines the role of the Centre as one of initiation and intervention in the struggle for equality. Emphasises the partnership between the Centre and local working class women. Rejects any form of hierarchical leadership but recognises that difference of class education and experience will problematise the balance of power and will remain an issue to be aware of.

* 'Continuity of Action': Addresses the organisation of the Centre. In order to avoid reinstating hierarchies, any formalised theoretical structure is rejected. The collective will work on the basis of friendship, trust and mutual accountability. This will ensure that no elite core can seize control of the organisation. The issue will be resolved through the daily actions and discussions of the Centre.

* Information regarding formal and informal meeting times for the group to discuss issues and to develop relationships with new women.