Craftivism Challenge 2020 launches

On 16th November we launched our #craftvism2020 challenge to celebrate women activists in East London.

We’ve been doing craftivism events regularly since 2016, working with the public to create over five metres of bunting that commemorates equality, diversity and women’s history more broadly. The aim was to keep building on the bunting this year, but due to the pandemic we had to take a slightly different approach to normal. It was too risky to meet in person, so instead we created craftivism packs, which have been distributed across the community.

In total 60 packs were sent out. Forty went out via local food banks, and 20 were sent to directly to participants on request. The packs included threads, needles, fabrics and all sorts of other crafting goodies. The task set was to create a flag for our bunting using the women in our online exhibition as inspiration. The results have been fantastic.

So far we have had contributions from young and old, sewing commemorations from Spare Rib magazine to the suffragettes. Some have looked more widely for their inspiration, dedicating their flag to figures in black history, including the writer, Octavia E Butler and Josephine Baker. You can check out each design on Instagram using the hashtag #craftvism2020.

The deadline for all flags to be returned is 8th Jan, so you still have all Christmas to take part. We don’t have any packs left, but if you email me I can send you the instructions, and then all you have to do is rummage around at home for any old bits of embroidery thread and fabric.

Our exhibition is back, bigger and better

It’s been years in the development; hours of sitting in cold archives; many cups of tea over oral history interviews; but finally our new Women Activists of East London exhibition is back. And it’s even better than last time.

I am so excited about the stories we have uncovered in this new phase of the project. There is much more diversity, including celebrating queer women activists. That’s fitting as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Gay Liberation Front. But we also managed to go back even further than that, finding stories of suffragettes in same sex relationships.

We have once again worked with award winning photographer, Elizabeth Dalziel. We have also worked with the brilliant illustrator Laura Greenan, who helped bring to life the women we could not find photos of. The lack of photographic documentation of women, particularly those from working class communities, is one of the things that keeps women’s history in the sidelines. It has been great to have these additions to the collection.

We have pulled all this together in an exhibition, which opens on 31st March at 1B Window Gallery on Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow. The exhibition will then tour around a number of venues. Here is a sneak preview.

Eva Slawson
Eva was a Christian socialist, looking to religion for both spiritual comfort and intellectual stimulation. She joined the Leyton branch of the Independent Labour Party, the Women’s Labour League and suffrage organisation, the Women’s Freedom League.  Eva was interested in feminist issues, especially the nature of relationships between men and women. In 1911 Eva met Minna Simmons and a close friendship immediately developed. After Minna’s husband died, Eva moved into her home in Walthamstow. While Eva did not describe their relationship in explicitly sexual terms, it was clearly profound.


The Sari Squad

The Sari Squad were a group of mostly Asian women who formed to fight deportations and the Immigration and Nationality Acts, which, like the hostile environment toda,y were built on a racist premise. They women engaged in many acts of civil disobedience, including chaining themselves to railings outside Conservative MP, Leon Brittan’s house.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Photofusion/Shutterstock (2286837a) Picket by Sari Squad of Tory Party conference, October 1983 Politics

Photo by Photofusion/Shutterstock (2286837a) Picket by Sari Squad of Tory Party conference, October 1983

Rachel Salmon
Rachel and her sister were some of the first visually impaired children to go to a mainstream school. They were trailblazers but it could also be quite challenging, as some of the teachers didn’t want to teach them. These early experiences informed her political views. In the 1990s she joined the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN). Rachel got involved in lots of direct actions, such as stopping traffic by chaining herself to buses in Whitehall.

Rachel Salmon, disability rights campaigner, poses for a picture at her home in Walthamstow Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. Rachel currently works at Hackney Council and is shop steward for her union. She has done a lot of work around diversity and inclusivity at work, including race, sexual identity, gender and disability. 
Rachel is also the Disability Officer for Walthamstow Labour Party. She is trying to encourage the Executive Committee to ensure events run by the Labour Party are accessible for disabled people as well as people who find being involved in political activity difficult more generally. She is also involved in Disability Labour, which is focused on more national issues, such as making sure disabled people can access things like public office. (Elizabeth Dalziel)

Rachel Summers
Rachel has always loved being outside. As a child she would take snails for a ride on her trike, and had a tank of pet woodlice. After training as a forest school leader, Rachel took over a piece of derelict land and transformed it, not just for her forest school, but for the whole community to enjoy. She is also active in Extinction Rebellion, and helped her own children organise a local school climate strike.


Women Activists of East London opens on 31st March at 1B Window Gallery on Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow. It will then travel to: Higham Hill Library, Walthamstow (4th May to 14th May); The Mill,  Walthamstow (19th May to 18th June); Walthamstow Garden Party (18th to 19th July)

Seeking stories of queer women activists

Screenshot 2019-06-17 at 12.08.35

The stories of queer women are often missing from our narratives of feminist activism. That’s why we decided to dedicate our latest oral history project to uncovering some of those stories.

We are delighted that we have already recorded an interview with a member of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners,  and have many more wonderful interview lined up. I know there are more though – we just need to reach the women.

If you identify as a queer women activist, or know someone whose story you think we need to record, please get in touch. You don’t have to have been born in East London to qualify for inclusion, but you do need to have some kind of connection with the boroughs of Waltham Forest, Hackney or Tower Hamlets. That might be through work, activism, family or living.

We have 20 volunteer interviewers, who have been trained by the Oral History Society and are eager to meet you and hear your stories. Contact us today!

The one thing we must not forget about the women’s suffrage centenary

In 1918, the People’s Representation Act was past, granting women the vote for the first time. Next year, across the country, there will be events to celebrate this landmark event. Except, for some women there was nothing to celebrate.

East London Federation of Suffragettes procession from Old Ford to Westminster Abbey


The 1918 act only granted the vote to householders, and in 1918 that excluded around 40% of women (and men) in East London. As one of the poorest areas of the country their poverty excluded them from voting rights. It would be another three years until universal suffrage was granted.

It is so important that we remember this fact. Working classes consistently get erased from history, and revisionism is incredibly problematic. That’s why, as part of next year’s centenary events, we are embarking on a series of talks across East London to share the stories of the East London suffragettes. We want people to know that if they had lived 100 years ago, 1918 would not have been a year of celebration for them.

If you would be interested in hosting a talk, please get in touch. The talks are free as our mission is to simply share the stories of women who deserve more recognition than they get.

The final curtain (for now)

This weekend we come to the end of our two year journey into the history of women-led activism, as our craftivist banner gets exhibited at the Walthamstow Garden Party. The banner was made by local women inspired by our project, as part of the Jo Cox Great Get Together (June 2017).

P16189 Minnie Lansbury 600 dpi 001Our journey started back in summer 2015 as our volunteers investigated archives in search of women’s stories that history had forgotten. They unearthed the lesser known suffragettes, like Emma Boyce and Sybil Smith, who campaigned tirelessly for Eastend women to not only get the vote, but also fight poverty. The volunteers also brought to life women like Milly Witkop, who is often only known as Rudolph Rocker’s lover, as opposed to a powerful activist in her own right.

Thanks to volunteers Jo Bloor, Sarah Brooke, Jasmiina Kauriola, Jean King, Susan Kochs, Cleo Pollard, Yara Rodriques Fowler, Charlotte Rowland and Michael Simpson for their efforts in researching, writing and proof-reading the report.

Download the report now

14 BEATTIE ORWELL02Following the archive research we began recording oral history interviews with women activists. We aimed to get 30, but ended up with 35 and could have easily done more, but ran out of time. The breadth of work, on top of commitments such as childcare and day jobs, made these women’s stories even more incredible. While many expressed gratitude to be featured amongst such esteemed companions, I personally found each and every one an inspiration.

Thanks to our volunteers Therese Berger, Pam Decho, Rhiannon Finamore, Ellen Harris, Sian Harrison, Veronique Jochum, Jean King, Hannah Lamdin, Ursula Nield, Alice Patterson, Cleo Pollard, Michael Simpson, Gill Scott, Julia Spicer, Josie Stevens, Sonita Turner. And of course to the 35 interviewees who gave their time to our project and generously shared their story

The complete, unedited collection of interviews can be accessed via Bishopsgate Institute archives. You can hear edited versions of a selection by downloading our walking tour app.

Download the app now

160901_0049In Spring 2016 we began to curate the exhibition, which for some was the most interesting part. A lot of historical retelling comes from the top down; from academics who’ve shaped the story for us. But many of these were stories were previously untold, so open to our own interpretation. As one volunteer put it: “We were reading and constructing the past on our terms.”

The exhibition was only supposed to be a two week stretch during the E17 Art Trail, but ended up touring to six different venues, including the Walthamstow Garden Party, The Barbican, Rich Mix and on Ruby Road, in a guerilla style street-facing finale.

Thanks to our volunteers Therese Berger, Rhiannon Finamore, Ellen Harris, Sian Harrison, Veronique Jochum, Hannah Lamdin and Julia Spicer. And a very special extra thanks to Gill Scott, who helped coordinate the exhibition and events on Ruby Road.

The exhibition boards have been donated to two schools (one set each) in Stratford (Sarah Bonnel Girls School) and Walthamstow (Walthamstow School for Girls).

Banner 2As for the banner – out this weekend in the Community Marquee at Walthamstow Garden Party – that is being homed at St Hilda’s East, and used for events run by the Boundary Women’s Group

So for now that brings the project to an end. There is however so much more women’s history out there. We didn’t even touch on lesbian, bisexual and transgender activism, and there are some incredible women disability activists, such as Sisters of Frida. I hope one day we can get the funding to come back to their stories and add to this inspirational collection.

Added thanks to our steering group Sondhya Gupta, Sarah Jackson, Janet Bowstead and Julia Slay for their help and advice throughout the project

How a new exhibition helped me through the horror of 2016

If you’re feeling anything like me, then you’ll probably be glad to see the back of 2016.

P09297 Alice Model 001 300 DPII’ve gone from the high of the spring, when I was privileged to meet and hear stories from so many women activists, to an almighty fall into Brexit and the reality of the Trump administration. I have to admit to feeling pretty low right now.

I don’t have a cure, but I can suggest one small thing that might relieve the symptoms: take yourself down to the Journeys to Justice exhibition, featuring Women Activists of East London, at Rich Mix in Shoreditch 

On from now until the beginning of January, Journeys to Justice uses music, art and oral histories to explore the history of the US civil rights movement and its impact on human rights in the UK. It focuses on individual stories, which are both moving and inspiring.

I’m thrilled that a number of women activists from our project have been selected for inclusion in the exhibition. Their stories stand proud as a local illustration of much wider struggles. It’s also fascinating to see these women in a wider social context, to understand both the similarities and differences.

Most of all, it helped me see that there have been struggles before that have often seen insumourtable, but we have fought and won. I believe we can do it again.

The exhibition will be on everyday until 1st January at Rich Mix on Bethnal Green Rd

Photo: Alice Model, maternity rights campaigner (Tower Hamlets Archives)

Report out now

Our report on women-led activism in East London is out now.

Get the report here

P33707 Susan Lawrence Mrs J Scurr and Mrs J Mackay 600

The report covers nearly 150 years of women-led activism in East London, from the Matchgirls in 1888 to Sisters Uncut in 2016. It has been compiled following extensive archive research and oral history interviews. While these stories have existed in various locations, this is the first time they have been pulled together in a concise form.

The report complements the app and exhibition, which both launched this month. It provides a more indepth look at these women, with a wider collection of stories.

Get the report here

The report was made possible by the support and dedication of our team of volunteers, to whom we’re very grateful, and funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

App launched – download it now

Our app – In Our Footsteps – is now available to download.

> Download it for iPhone here

> Download it for Android here

The app takes you on a tour of 150 years of women-led activism, featuring photos and personal testimonies from those who were there. And those of you who don’t live near East London can still enjoy it from the comfort of your own home.


The app was launched earlier this month at Gnome House, coinciding with the private view of our exhibition, which will be at the community centre for the whole of September.


It was a difficult task trying to edit down the huge number of stories we’d collected as part of this story. Leaving any out seemed a crime. We’ve tried to capture as many as we could across the app and exhibition, and encourage you to explore both if you can.


It has been a delight and a privilege to work on this under reported part of history. I hope you will download the free app to learn and spread the word about the amazing women.

Our exhibition is back

After the success at Walthamstow Garden Party, we’re delighted to announce that our women activists of East London exhibition is back for a second run, this time at Gnome House in Walthamstow.


The exhibition celebrates 150 years of women-led activism, and features photography from award winning photographer, Elizabeth Dalziel. Featuring 16 individual stories, it portrays women in a way rarely seen in other media – powerful, inspiring and leaders in change.

The exhibition opens on 1st September, and will run until the end of the month. You can see a sneak preview of some of the exhibition here.

Exhibition opens this weekend

Our exhibition celebrating 150 years of women-led activism in East London, opens this weekend at the Walthamstow Garden Party, a free festival run by the Barbican. It features 16 inspiring stories, and portraits from award winning photographer, Elizabeth Dalziel.

The exhibition shows women in a way rarely seen in traditional media – powerful, determined and leaders in social change. It has to be seen in person to get the full effect, but below are a few images to whet your appetite.

Minnie Lansbury
In 1921, five women, and 25 Labour councillors went to prison for refusing to collect local taxes they felt discriminated against the poor. Among them was Minnie Lansbury (pictured), who contracted pneumonia while inside, and died the following year. The actions of the Poplar Rebel Councillors led to non co-operation from other local authorities, and a change in law to bring more equality to the local taxation systems.

Minnie Lansbury heading to Holloway Prison

Alice Model
A pioneer in maternal and infant health, Alice Model changed the lives of hundreds of the poorest families in East London. Her work in setting up home help systems, and providing free health checks to under fives, pathed the way for the NHS and welfare state.

Alice Model

Beattie Orwell
In 1936, over 10,000 anti-fascist protesters faced off Oswald Mosley and Blackshirts in what has become known as The Battle of Cable Street. This now infamous event in Eastend history is well documented, but often told from a male perspective. But women like Beattie, who was 19 at the time, prove women were there, often taking greater personal risks than the men.


Hibo Wardere

Born in Somali, Hibo was a victim of female genital mutilation as a child. She didn’t speak of what happened to her for over 40 years. After opening up to the Head teacher at the school where she worked, she found she couldn’t stop. She now goes from school to school, talking to both teachers and students, leaving audiences speechless in their admiration for her courage and passion to end this brutal practice.


Sabeha Miah
As a single mother suffering from post natal depression, Sabeha started volunteering with the Boundary Women’s Group as a way of breaking her isolation. Within a  few years she was running the group, helping to to build confidence in others. Despite the huge numbers of lives she’s changed through her work, Sabeha never considered herself an activist. Yet this “gentle activism” can be just as powerful as any placard waving.

Sabeha Miah, Boundary Women's Group (Elizabeth Dalziel)