‘An answer to some difficult questions about the justice system for women’
Hope Street, Southampton
Snug Architects for One Small Thing
Contract cost: £7.5m
This is the first building for the charity One Small Thing. It is the answer to some difficult questions about the justice system for women, such as: ‘Why do women on minor sentences end up with custodial sentences?’, ‘How do we reduce the devastating impact of women’s custodial sentences on families?’ and ‘How do we avoid women re-offending?’.
This is a place for women without a ‘safe’ home to live in, women who might otherwise have ended up in prison rather than remaining free to serving community sentences. It is also intended as a place of therapy.
‘Women prisoners are not well served and something that improves things for them and their children is of huge importance,’ said judge Kathy MacEwen.
Initial ideas with Heatherwick Studio have been worked through and developed with great care by local practice Snug Architects, which spent time with women who had experience of the justice institutions to create a space that would be both trauma-informed and specific to women. There is a haptic quality to the brick, bronze and timber that make up this building.
From the street the facility appears as three polite, connected villas. Inside, a small café further softens the informal reception. There are eight shared flats for up to 24 women and children looking out onto a shared planted courtyard. The women living here have communal spaces of a generous kitchen and living room, plus a playroom for the children, and may also, in time, help out at the café.
During what is typically a three-month stay the comfortable CLT-lined counselling room is likely to be put to good use and there are also events in the activity rooms that are shared with the community. While women are free to come and go as they please to discharge their community sentence, work or see family and friends, those coming into Hope Street are monitored to ensure that anyone who might cause trouble or bring in drink or drugs does not make it inside. The thoughtful circulation and diagram allow for this and an informal oversight by staff, and ensure it remains a sanctuary for the women in who come to Hope Street.