In the bleak midwinter, on 28th December 2021, the first new prison inmates at Derwentside Women’s IRC arrived, in the dark, at an uncompleted repurposed building in a remote rural part of a northern English county.
With bad mobile coverage, miles from family and friends and no law firms in the local region to help them with their complex problems, their plight must have seemed hopeless.
But there was a band of well wishers at the gates to sing ‘We shall overcome’ and another band of volunteers ready to spring into action, as visitors and bringers of simple home comforts too expensive for the meagre detainee allowance to stretch to. And every month, people came to the gates, to show support and bear witness to what was happening inside the building.
Over the year that unfolded, huge efforts were made by those first local people, and by the growing number of campaigners in the region, to challenge the very existence of the IRC, but also to improve the lives of the women locked up inside. Both kinds of action were hard to accomplish,since government information about who was there and for how long, and why, was not apparently, suitable for public consumption.
As for the Home Office, it became increasingly clear that the detention system it was in charge of was chaotic and dependent on political and news agendas. Even so, information did gradually emerge – not just about the outrageous sum it had cost to open the centre and the amount contractors Mitie were being paid (millions of pounds) to run it; but about how most women in Derwentside were part of a darker picture of people being shunted around the country to different removal centres, the women often moved on after short periods. Many were released back into the community – they should never have been locked up at all. As to how many were ever actually removed to another country, we have no way of finding out. It became clear that’ Immigration Removal Centre’ was not an accurate name to describe Derwentside IRC.
In 2022 No to Hassockfield has uncovered much about the IRC’s place in the national picture, despite the many obstacles, and is building up a case to show just why we have been right from the very start to cry ‘Shut it Down!’ We’ve been joining allies in their actions challenging the detention system as a whole, while supporting those bringing friendship and comfort to the women who come and go there, often at short notice in vans at night. And we have been challenging regional politicians to put our concerns on their agendas, whether it’s about calling for improving the vital communication facilities in the building to championing the alternatives to locking up women – alternatives that have been proved more humane and less costly.
You’ll find some of our actions celebrated below in the card we’ve sent MPs. Our past posts can tell you the fuller story.