Hackney Women’s Centre and Matrix Feminist Architects

I was pleased to see the above flyer included in a post by Glasgow Women’s Library entitled “The Personal is Political: Lesbian Life“. As they say:

This events programme for Hackney Women’s Centre Lesbian Group is typical of some of the social events programmes and flyers which we have throughout the archive. It illustrates the wide range of social activities that these groups promoted amongst the women that used those spaces. Flyers like this are often interesting because they can often underline the intersectional approaches to organising that feminist and lesbian spaces often tried to institute around building access for wheelchair users, childcare facilities and language interpretation.

Glasgow women’s library

I also like that the events are social rather than overtly political – precisely because in the 1980s lesbians socialising together would haven been a political act in itself in many ways.

Hackney Women’s Centre on Dalston Lane, photograph courtesy of Rio Cinema Archive on Instagram

Hackney Women’s Centre appears to have been based at 27 Hackney Grove E8 and then at 20 Dalston Lane E8 around 1984/5.

The Centre’s origins stretch back to at least 1981, with this call to action in Hackney People’s Press:

An early story about the Centre from Hackney Peoples Press #72 September 1981

The group seems to have prioritised a feminist approach to the entire project – the commitment in the article above was matched by ensuring the premises were accessible to disabled women.

Similarly, the renovation of the Dalston Lane property was overseen by Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative – an feminist architecture co-op who were also based in Dalston at the time:

There is an interesting post about their work on Hackney Women’s Centre at Matrix Open Feminist Architecture Archive including a scan of some pages from a brochure about the renovations needed at the 20 Dalston Lane building.

In “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne note that not all of the GLC funded women’s centres were as successful as the Hackney one:

Matrix was involved in projects for Hackney, Brixton and Bermondsey. Of these, only one, Hackney Women’s Centre, was built. The borough council had made a rundown shop building on Dalston Lane available, and much of the limited funds for building work went into repairing it before it could be converted for use: here the kitchen, built by women joiners, was at the heart of the social space, and as much of the building as possible was made accessible for disabled people.

Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne

Matrix also helped with the development of Dalston Children’s Centre.

Alongside the technical renovations and building work, the Centre commissioned some lovely stained glass by femalie artist Anna Conti and the photos on her site are the only tantalising glimpse of the interior of the Centre I have been able to find:

The flyer below gives a flavor of the sort of activies that the organising group were hoping the Centre would be able to offer. And of course there is the inevitable mail box at Centerprise!

An advert for the Centre, reproduced in The RIo Tape/Slide Archive: Radical Community Photography in the 80s (Isola Press)

Hackney Museum has a nice badge too as part of its collection:

Aside from the Hackney Lesbian Group flyer at the top of this post, I’ve not found a huge amount of material on what actually happened at the Centre after it opened. There are some interesting adverts in the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter from 1988 and 1990:

An event fron 1988.
A regular event in 1990.

The longevity of these events suggest that the Centre was able to maintain the commitment to intersectionality noted by Glasgow Women’s Library.

Social event at the Centre – probably from 1989

Inevitably it was not all plain sailing, as is evident from this unpleasant exchange of letters between the Pan African Congress Group and the Centre. They concern an argument over a group obtaining a Malcolm X tape which is mainly about homophobia in the black community:

Letters page, Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter June/July 1990.

It appears that Hackney Women’s Centre was in operation until at least 1993. A lot of organisations that had been supported by the GLC struggled to maintain funding beyond this point. (Although it is worth noting that London Irish Women’s Centre was at 59 Stoke Newington Church Street until 2012).

The Centre appears in several novels: “Calendar Girl” by Stella Duffy (1994), “Hello Mr Bones” by Patrick McCabe (2013) and “All Girl Live Action” by Sara Faith Tibbs (2015)

If you have any memories of Hackney Women’s Centre – or access to archival material, stories, people relating to it, please leave a comment below.

Sources and further reading

Petrescu, D. (ed.) (2007) Altering Practices: Feminist Politics and Poetics of Space, New York and London: Routledge – includes “Evaluating Matrix: note from inside the collective” Julia Dwyer and Anne Thorne.

Grace Quah – Beyond the Home: Re-evaluating feminist representations of domestic space through contemporary cinema (Thesis for Bartlett School of Architecture, 2017) – available on academia.edu

Matrix Feminist Design Co-operative Wikipedia page

Matrix Open Feminist Architecture Archive

Black Lesbian and Gay Centre Project newsletter is availabe online at Bishopsgate Archive.

2 thoughts on “Hackney Women’s Centre and Matrix Feminist Architects

  1. Pingback: Centerprise’s radical mailboxes | The Radical History of Hackney

  2. Pingback: Dalston Children’s Centre 1982/3 | The Radical History of Hackney

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