One woman’s alternative guide to feminist London

I decided to write this guide to feminist spots in London, as I found it incredibly frustrating trying to find one myself! This one from London Calling was actually quite interesting and gave me a couple of extra ideas, but it’s far from comprehensive.

What I set out to do is to highlight the lesser known spaces which are run by and for feminists, and often missed by mainstream guides, even those on feminist spaces.

So I hope you enjoy it and find it useful (and please do send me other ideas if you think I’d missed something important!):

  1. Feminist Library – I thought it deserved the number one spot, as I spend a ton of my time there, and as I’ve heard it described to me recently, it’s an absolute haven for feminists in London, and I personally couldn’t agree more – it’s so much more than a library: with bookshop, events, and a hub for feminist meetings by other groups, it ‘has it all’. Even though it remains to struggle financially, a dedicated group of volunteers make ends meet every year, as if by magic. It is a large collection of feminist literature – and the largest independent one in London – its origins dating back to 1975, the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement, commonly known as the second wave in the UK. As it grew over the years, the Feminist Library collections became too big for its own premises to house everything, and Bishopsgate Institute now holds most of the Feminist Library archival and ephemeral collections, while the Wellcome Library is home to the Women’s Health Library, originally given to the FL after its closure. You can get a taste of what’s in store by visiting this recent digital exhibit (which only shows a very small part of the collections!), or signing up to the newsletter here. The Feminist Library also organises feminist tours of the local area.

    theory and fiction rooms_2016

    Theory and fiction rooms at the Feminist Library

  2. Holloway prison – the recently shut prison, which used to house many famous suffragettes back in the day, is in the process of being repurposed. An amazing group of local community activists, Reclaim Holloway, came together following the closure, with a mission to transform the land into a space that would be worthy of its herstorical heritage, including a space for a women’s building – with services, meeting space, a museum, and more. Aside from their incredibly inspiring, ongoing, campaign, they also organise community events, transforming the open section of the space into a community gathering hub.
  3. ROOMs or Rooms of Our Own – neighbouring with Holloway, in Walthamstow, an amazing woman, Wendy, has been trying to set up a women’s building – with services, housing, co-working space, and more – in the area for a number of years. The search for a plot continues. If you know of any opportunities in the area, get in touch with Wendy. She will love you until the end of her days!
  4. East End Women’s Museum – a feminist-led alternative to more mainstream, institutional women-focused exhibitions, like the suffrage section of the Museum of London, LSE’s Women’s Library and its centenary exhibition (open throughout 2018, in celebration of #vote100), or the Florence Nightingale Museum; coming to London as a permanent space in 2019. Even though the museum is not yet officially open, it was a massive success story celebrated by feminists in London when we heard that they have actually found a space, after a very long search campaign. Though the physical museum is still in the making, the group behind it is very busy organising exhibitions around London and community events locally in Barking & Dagenham, so check out their events page for info on all the latest.
  5. Luminary Bakery – a feminist project as much as it is a bakery. Set up with a mission to empower disadvantaged women, it provides skills and training to women affected by domestic violence, the criminal system, poverty and homelessness. Very inspiring – I hope to be able to work with them when Angels & Witches finally finds a home!
  6. Tonight Josephine – a cocktail bar for women, inspired by Joséphine de Beauharnais, an infamous French party girl (Napoleon, her husband, often gets a mention in her story, but I was in two minds about giving him any space here), which was seen as very outrageous in her time. It just so happens that it’s also based down the road from the Feminist Library, so you can visit them both on the same day, and maybe even squeeze in a trip down the LSE Women’s Library’s suffrage exhibit or to…
  7. Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths University – part of the academic collection, but staffed by the incredibly knowledgeable and helpful special collections curator, Althea Greenan. If you give her a call and make an appointment ahead of going, you should be able to get your own private tour of the collection. Also recently partly digitised – you can now download an app to browse parts of the collections and stories of selected artists.
  8. Her Noise archive – this one is part of the special collections at the University of Arts. So another one just down the road from the Feminist Library (it seems all the feminist roads lead to it, what can I say!). You can arrange a visit  by getting in touch by phone or email. But you can also browse their extensive online collections if you’re not in London.
  9. She Soho – if you fancy continuing your feminist day into the night, a short bus ride away is She bar and club night in Soho. Open to women and their male guests.
  10. 2 Girls’ Café – lovely vegan food and zero waste. Set up and run by two women on a mission to promote vegan food and local art. And available for events hire too. I hesitate to mention this again, but it is only a short bus ride away from the Feminist Library, as well as the Women’s Art Library and Her Noise archive, and, if you still have time to do the short walk across the river, The Women’s Library at LSE! By now, hopefully you’re starting to picture a map in your head, plotting your journey.
  11. Persephone Books – a hidden gem in the heart of London. This bookstore brings you a range of literature classics written by women. Beautifully packaged too – Persephone has its own, unique, signature style, and you can get some gorgeous wrapping paper to take your haul away in, making it the perfect gift shopping destination for feminists.
  12. Chickpea Sisters – an amazing restaurant and inspiring project, run by women for women. Eat and support empowerment of vulnerable women while you’re at it. What’s not to love!
  13. Coming to London soon is a new feminist bookshop! Exact location still to be announced, but it sounds like it will become another destinations spot for London feminists.

With no dedicated spaces, but regular events – everything from comedy and gigs, through to conferences and film festivals – run by women and with women at heart:

  1. Who Run the World – is an independent, feminist-run live music night, focusing on showcasing women-fronted bands. It doesn’t have a dedicated space, but the upshot of it is that events happen all over London. Celebrating it’s 3rd birthday this weekend!
  2. BBZ London – do a similar thing, but with DJs and focusing on promoting women of colour specifically. It’s also an exhibition, art show and generally a very cool project highlighting the experiences and creativity of women of colour in music.
  3. Debbie – a female fronted pop, rock & disco night. Everyone welcome!
  4. Gal-dem – one of the most inspiring feminist projects on the London scene right now. Primarily a magazine with a focus on women of colour, but also a group that runs events, including exquisite club nights.
  5. Funny Women – bringing female comedians together and organising stand up nights for good causes in London and all around the UK.
  6. For Books’ Sake – on a mission to bring out writing by women. They run regular events, showcasing female writing, in collaboration with some very cool spaces, projects and women.
  7. London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF) – an annual celebration of feminist films and one of my personal favourite gatherings of the year, usually towards the end of summer / beginning of autumn, with some smaller events happening in between the festivals.
  8. Club des Femmes – a queer feminist film collective, bringing you a diverse range of feminist films. They also work with the London Feminist Film Festival and Rio Cinema, which is also home to most of the LFFF screenings, although they have recently also screened at the BFI.
  9. Birds Eye View Film – runs not just a range of film events, with a focus on women in film, but also a training programme focused on bringing female and BAME voices into filmmaking.
  10. Directed by Women – you could call it a feminist film festival. But they prefer to call it a ‘film viewing party’, which does make it sound better, doesn’t it? Especially considering it’s a month-long party!
  11. FiLiA – the biggest, grassroots-led feminist conference in London (this year moving out of London, to Manchester, for the first time), bringing together thousands of feminists from around the globe every October.
  12. WoW London – the biggest festival focused on women in London. Runs for a week around the International Women’s Day each year. At the Southbank Centre, which is also a frequent meetup space for feminist groups – it’s free to use, with cafe and bar space, and a range of creative type activities running in the background (although there’s no guarantee you will find a table, as it gets busy, especially on evening and weekends) – not to mention also just a short 10-minute walk from the Feminist Library and Tonight Josephine.

Feminist shopping!:

  1. Birdsong London – ethical shopping, bringing together female makers. Runs stalls at feminist events and venues all around London. Get your wardrobe updated, without any guilty conscience.
  2. House of Tammam – the only ‘green’ Atelier in London. Eco, vegan, hand made couture and bridal wear.
  3. Bread & Roses – a Hackney based social enterprise providing flowers and helping refugee women ‘flourish through employment’, in their own words, which is a really great tagline, if you ask me.

And some not explicitly feminist hangouts that do enough stuff of the feminist persuasion to deserve a spot on the list:

  1. Treadwell’s – the witchiest bookstore in London. It might not be explicitly feminist, but it’s a must-see for any women interested in feminism, witchcraft, and their interconnected herstories.
  2. The Book Club – despite the fact that it’s not a dedicated feminist venue, it plays host to some great feminist events, including one at which I found out about it – Herstory evenings run by one Alice Wroe of Herstory UK, a former fellow Feminist Library volunteer – and That’s What She Said, spoken word nights for and by women.
  3. DIY Space for Londonnot just a feminist space, but it’s run by an amazing independent collective of community organisers and activists, and often runs feminist events, including gigs. It is also a part of a larger network of autonomous social centres in London and the UK, which includes event and meeting spaces, bookstores, libraries, archives and cafés – many of them with at least a feminist focus in approach, if not an array of feminist events and resources. And it’s just a stone’s throw away from 2 Girls’ Café, and a ton of other fun, cool spaces in Peckham – which is becoming a growing community organising hub for London – such as The Field and Bussey Building.
  4. Housmans bookshop – a radical bookseller in the heart of London, it holds one of the largest selection of feminist books of all London bookstores – independent or otherwise. It also holds regular events, many of them feminist, including a reading group and the opening night of the Feminist Book Fortnight this year.
  5. Black Cat Cafe – it calls itself an anarchist cafe, but considering it’s got amazing vegan food and a range of feminist anarchist books, I am not surprised that it’s a go-to destination for feminists in London and a regular hangout for those based in or around Hackney.
  6. Rio Cinema – just a short walk away from Dalston stations, it has a beautiful history, linked to the local community and London activism more generally. Screens a range of beautiful, independent films, and is also home to the London Feminist Film Festival, and a number of other feminist film events throughout the year. This is where North London shines at its brightest – you can hang out at Rio in the evening, for a screening or two, following a lunch at the Luminary Bakery or the Black Cat, just a few bus or Overground stops away.
  7. The Canvas – probably my favourite cafe in London – and the competition is fierce, as you can see here! Very aptly named the first ‘Happy Café’ in London. Again, not a specifically feminist venue, but host to a multitude of wonderful, including feminist, yoga, mindfulness and art, events.

There is also a growing number of women’s members’ clubs around London, but, as they are set up by and for moneyed women, these do tend to grab a lot more press attention than any of the ones listed above, so I didn’t think especially they need my attention, as I wanted to highlight the often overlooked locations, the hidden gems. Not to mention that class is also a feminist issue, if you ask me…

Apart from the currently open spaces, which are happily growing in popularity and number again, with the resurgence of the feminist movement at the moment, there are tons of historical spots worth a visit, and guides to the history of women’s London, such as Our Sisters’ London, a series of walks focusing on women who lived and worked here, which I recently discovered at the Feminist Library, and the more recently published, Women’s London, as well as a number of groups who host alternative tours to London, such as the Feminist Library, East End Women’s Museum, and others locally. I also recently wrote on my Herstory Diary blog about the story of the Feminist Library spaces, and its links to feminist London more broadly. Art Historian, Amy Tobin, writes about this topic more widely here and here.

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