Bring Abigail and her children back home to London!

Watch the videos, read the text below and support Focus E15 campaign in the renewed pressure and demands on Waltham Forest council to stop social cleansing to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City.  We  are demanding an end to Abigail’s isolation. 

In March 2014 Abigail approached Waltham Forest council to help find accommodation. Her previous landlord was about to evict her as she was pregnant and he didn’t want a baby in his property. Abigail was told by the council that they had found her emergency temporary accommodation, a one bedroom apartment, in Welwyn garden city.

When Abigail arrived at the new property, it was clear the accommodation was not suitable for her and her unborn daughter.  It wasn’t a one bedroom apartment as she was told, but a very small studio flat with a kitchenette, living room and bedroom all in the same room. The room had problems with damp, mould, cockroaches and dangerous faulty appliances (Abigail and her children have spent the last two winters with no working heating). Heavily pregnant when moving in, and then with a new-born baby and a pushchair soon after, the room Abigail was given was on the 3rdstory, and the block of accommodation has no lifts.

Watch the video as Abigail explains more about her situation:

Welwyn Garden City, where Abigail was placed, is over 20 miles and an expensive train ride away from Abigail’s family, community and place of work in Walthamstow.  Outrageously, this means Abigail has had to spend 80% of her wages on travel, whilst being separated from her support networks, and removed from the place she knows as home.

This year marks 3 years since Abigail’s placement in Welwyn Garden City- when she was initially moved she was told it would be a few month, maximum. She has been doing everything she can to move back home; speaking to councillors, housing officers, and continually bidding for suitable properties closer to her loved ones. But unfortunately, her attempts have been unsuccessful, and Waltham Forest Council are unwilling to help.

In September 2016, Abigail gave birth to her second beautiful daughter, who has recently been diagnosed as having Congenital Melanocytic Naevus (CMN), a type of birthmark. Unfortunately complications of CMN can include neurological problems in the brain or spinal cord and malignant melanoma. This means that the baby must attend regular check-ups with her doctor, and specialists at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

With the recent diagnosing of Abigail’s second daughter’s condition, it has become even more urgent that she is brought back to London, back to her support networks, so her family and friends can support her and her daughters. Abigail will need help with childcare, family to attend appointments with her, and loved ones around to support her in stressful and scary times.

This family cannot get the support they need living miles away from their community, it is time they are brought back home. That is why Focus E15 campaign is supporting an online petition to demand Waltham Forest Council bring Abigail and her daughters back to London, and to provide this family with a safe and decent home. Please sign and share the petition across your networks:
https://www.change.org/p/waltham-forest-council-bring-abigail-and-her-kids-back-home

Thank you. Together we are stronger!

Why I am a Focus E15 campaigner

Janice Graham has been out campaigning with Focus E15 campaign on the streets of East London every Saturday for 3 years. On International women’s day 2017 she takes time to explain why:

I am a mother of 4 children and I have 11 grandchildren. I have lived in Newham most of my life, bringing up my family single handed.  I have just plodded along getting on with my life, not being interested in anything to do with politics: I always thought it was boring and couldn’t be bothered to listen to a load of old rubbish coming from politicians thinking they know everything.  This changed when Newham Labour Council’s policies of social cleansing started to affect me and my family.

My daughter Jasmin was moved into Focus E15 Hostel in Stratford in East London, when she was 7 months pregnant. The hostel was home to 100s of young people under the age of 25, all from different backgrounds and many of these young people were quite vulnerable.  The rooms were very small and damp, but at least I thought, my daughter has a roof over her head and hopefully she can move somewhere more suitable for bringing up a child soon. After all there were all those lovely brand new flats on the Olympic Village sitting empty.

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Janice, left, with her daughter Jasmin

How wrong could I be: in September 2013 Jasmin and all the other 29 mothers and mothers to be, received eviction notices and were told they would have to get out because the council’s funding stream to the mother and baby unit suddenly stopped.  It was scary because the Council  were moving people as far as Hastings, Birmingham or Manchester.  I went with my daughter and tried desperately to find something in the private rented sector, but each time we met landlords it was clear that they were not interested in housing single mothers on benefits.

I thought, this cannot happen, I am not letting Newham Council separate my family. My daughter is not going to live hundreds of miles away from me – I would never see my grandchild.  The insecurity was putting my daughter under so much stress.  I started to worry about all the other mothers from the hostel and wondered how they were coping; they must do something together.  I suggested to Jasmin that she should speak to the other mothers, knock on their doors and get some kind of petition going.  And that is exactly what they did. A campaign was formed, supported by other organised groups like the RCG, Feminist Fightback and many talented individuals offering campaigning experience and solidarity to the mothers.  I am very pleased to say that we stood up to Newham Council and made them listen and the mothers were all rehoused in London. A massive victory!

For more than 3 years now Focus E15 Campaign has been going strong. Every Saturday  we meet people on our street stall on the Broadway in Stratford who are going through similar housing problems, causing people much misery and stress. Why should people have to move away from their area so property developers can build sky high apartments that often stay empty?  The empty homes all over the country should be repopulated now.  There are even empty council homes in Stratford on the Carpenters Estate where homeless people could be rehoused.

My message to anyone and everyone is you can fight back, get together in numbers. Make demands, say what you want and keep on pushing until you get what you want.  I would never had dreamt in a million years that I would have been out on the street making a noise and fighting for what I now realise is our right.  You can do that too.  Stand up to the council bullies and fight back.

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Solidarity to all residents resisting estate ‘redevelopment’.

This year Focus E15 campaign have been in talks with campaigners resisting gentrification across London. At the campaign meetings there have been lively discussions with some new supporters  including academics from Ruskin College Oxford and students from Birkbeck; members of the Women’s Equality Party; residents resisting the sell-off of Northwold Estate in Hackney and also actors and directors from Lung Theatre, who are raising the issue of housing with the play E15 (now on tour).

SOLIDARITY TO Northwold Estate!

At one of the campaign meetings this year we heard directly from some brilliant residents from  Northwold estate. Northwold estate in Clapton, East London, is a Guinness Trust estate built in the 1930’s with some later developmental additions. Tellingly, the Guinness Trust slogan is ‘business with a social purpose’ and contrary to their claims to be easing the housing crisis through providing ‘affordable’ housing, Guinness Trust have, in recent years, doubled rents. Their plans are to demolish a third of Northwold estate by building luxury flats which can be sold at market prices of up to £1 million.

Guinness trust have misled residents about the latest redevelopment plans, creating a sham ‘consultation’, and cancelling a recent meeting about the proposed redevelopment. Many residents remain unclear about the plans and are upset, frightened and angry. The plans for redevelopment of the estate would mean a ten-year process of regeneration, no play facilities for residents, and no guarantee that if they knock down a third of the estate that the rest of the estate would even be saved.

Active resistance is spreading on the estate, with a committee now formed and 60-70 people coming out to the first public meetings. Residents are fighting for their community, their homes and their estate.Their demands to Guinness are: no demolishing of flats, no loss of social homes, maintenance of the current homes and a proper consultation. Residents are speaking out because they know their homes could be lost if they tow the line.

Focus E15 is offering support and solidarity to the Northwold Estate campaign. Keep your eyes open for more meetings and actions. Victory to the residents of Northwold Estate!

All eyes on Carpenters Estate

At our last campaign meeting  there was a lively discussion on the future of Carpenters Estate led by a former resident of the estate who is very worried about the recent announcement in the Newham Mag that the estate will soon be redeveloped. 400 homes on the Carpenters Estate remain empty, while homeless people, whom the council has a statutory duty to house, are often moved out of the borough.

Focus E15 campaign agreed to mobilise all forces to attend up and coming public meetings, council meetings and cabinet meetings in order to raise the issue of immediate repopulation of the estate.The campaign will expose the bogus claims from property developers that they are creating affordable housing, when they are in fact doing the opposite.

Focus E15 are fighting against social cleansing and for social housing, demanding secure long term stable housing for all. Join us on the streets every Saturday from 12pm- 2pm outside Wilkos on the Broadway.

Building campaigns with political solidarity

Andrew is 55 years old and has been street homeless since the 30th of October 2016. Despite being vulnerable and known to local services, Andrew  has been left to sleep out in the deadly cold for 4 months. Members of the Focus E15 campaign, the Revolutionary Communist Group, the Museum of Homelessness and local residents have been joining forces and standing in solidarity with Andrew.

A Focus E15 campaigner reports:

GATE KEEPING MUST STOP
We met Andrew and went to the housing service at Bridge House in Stratford, Newham East London, to ask about finding Andrew a secure home.There were 5 of us in total, we were peaceful and made it clear we were there to support him. We had a banner that said Housing is a Mental Health Issue to let passersby know why we were there. We tried to enter the building at 10.30 am only to be refused entry by security who said that Bridge House is “an appointment only building” and we were told we must go to East Ham’s housing office instead. We refused to leave. The security guard eventually sent down another security guard to take Andrew’s details. After waiting another 30 minutes a receptionist told us we would not be able to speak to a manager and we must go to East Ham.

From previous experience and visits to the  East Ham’s office, we know that people in housing need are often boomeranged from Stratford to East Ham only to be sent back to Stratford. It is ridiculous!

KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE
During our time standing outside in the freezing cold, Bridge House pulled down metal shutters and locked the doors to the public building.  A Focus E15 campaigner called the councils housing office and asked to speak to Andrews case worker who said he would call back within the hour, once he had gone over Andrew’s case. Nearly 2 hour later there was still no phone call. So Focus E15 called back and we got put through to another member of staff who explained that the case worker was in a meeting and would call back asap but he didn’t. Finally we spoke to him: he said he would need a further 30 mins.However 30 mins later and what a surprise – still no phone call from him, so we phoned again and received no answer. At this point we began to feel very worried about Andrew as we did not want him spending another night on the streets.

THIS IS HAPPENING TO PEOPLE EVERY DAY
This is the process people are expected to go through. Andrew does not have a phone so how could he possibly ever get to speak to his case worker? He has no money, so how is he supposed to travel to East Ham? This is the treatment homeless people face: being turned away at the door and told to make lengthy expensive phone calls and travel to the other side of the borough.If they do manage to get there, the shutters come down and nobody helps.

WHAT OLYMPIC LEGACY?
On Carpenters Estate, a 30 second walk from Bridge House housing office, there are 410 EMPTY COUNCIL  homes. Some that have been empty for 12 years. And from one extreme to another, shadowing both Bridge House and Carpenters Estate, are  brand new buildings where one of the flats is selling for 15 million pounds. How does any of this make any sense?   Let us also remember that Newham Labour council tried to displace young mothers from Stratford whilst boarding up  its council housing. This is the real Olympic legacy: social cleansing of the working class. Whilst we think about what this means for people, it is worth bearing in mind that there are 300,000 homeless people and 750,000 empty homes in England, which makes 2 and a half empty properties for every homeless person. We have to demand that they are opened for those who need them.

SOLIDARITY CAN WIN
Whilst writing up this blog, we received a phone call saying that Andrew will be offered a place. This just goes to show that when we stand together we see results! However it should not take 5 people going to a housing office with a banner and calling a million times for accommodation to be found for someone in a rich country like ours.

The message here is that we can support people individually but to start to see effective change we need to expose the corruption that happens everyday. We need to fight for our homes and we need to challenge our local elected council as they are not representing us. We have to be loud and we have to remind them that we are watching what they say and do and we will not be silenced and we will not give in.

Andrew is overwhelmed with his new place and said he can not wait to get involved with the campaign.

Come and stand in solidarity with Andrew at the Focus E15 Street stall,every Saturday 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway.  Let’s plan the beginning of the end of the housing crisis. Together we are stronger.

Focus E15 Campaign against Deliveroo victimisation – let Ben return to work!

Focus E15 campaign would like to send out a message of solidarity to Ben Geraghty who is being victimised by  Deliveroo, the company he has worked for for over a year.  According to a statement put out by his union, the IWGB, on the Couriers and Logistics branch Facebook page, Ben’s contract has been suddenly terminated, without warning, and he has not been offered any more shifts. Many think that there is an obvious reason why this has happened to him: Ben is a prominent union organiser with the IWGB and has been recently campaigning for union recognition and  workers rights for all Deliveroo drivers. This is the real reason why he has been targeted in this way. Ben told Focus E15 campaign that:

These actions clearly represent an attempt, on the part of Deliveroo’s management, to victimise and silence me and, by extension, the union. This is what Deliveroo and the gig economy truly stand for: old style casualisation and anti-union intimidation, poorly painted over with a twenty-first century aesthetic. Myself, the IWGB and its members will never bow to such blatant attempts at union busting as these.

Over the last two years, Ben has been a regular supporter of the Focus E15 campaign, attending our street stalls, events and public meetings. We stand with Ben and urge Deliveroo to immediately reinstate him and recognise the IWGB as the union of  choice for Deliveroo drivers.

Support Ben and the IWGB campaign to unionise the Deliveroo workforce! Stand  for workers rights! Stand up for Ben. Come to a public meeting, hosted by IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch  on Tuesday 13 December, 7pm-9pm at Somers Town Community Association, 150 Ossulston St, NW1 1EE to organise the fightback.

TOGETHER WE ARE STRONGER.

 

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Ben Geraghty, centre, supporting the opening of Sylvia’s Corner  – a community hub for Focus E15 campaign

Housing Activists from Budapest arrive in London

In November 2016 Focus E15 participated in an exchange with Budapest housing activists who are in a campaign called A Város Mindenkiè– The City is for All (AVM).

This exchange was organised through the European Coalition for the Right to Housing and the City.  The aim of this exchange, which was the first of its kind run through the European Coalition, was for campaigners in both London and Budapest to share protest techniques, learn new skills and examine our political approaches in the fight for housing.

First, AVM activists came to London and participated in various events –in  the ‘day-to-day’ life of Focus E15 campaigning.

We took them along to our weekly street stall in Stratford outside Wilkos on the Broadway for leafleting, petitioning, using the open mic and of course a bit of street dancing:

Dancing in the street!
Dancing in the street!
Focus E15 campaign Street Stall
Focus E15 Street stall

After the street stall, at the  Focus E15 campaign meeting, activists from AVM gave a presentation about how their campaign in Budapest is structured. We were impressed to learn that their campaign has been active for 6 years with different sub groups, weekly meetings and street stalls  organised on a regular basis. Focus E15 campaign also invited Joel Benjamin from Debt Resistance UK  to speak. Joel presented information on how local council are raking up huge debt due to servicing the interest on massive loans. The interpreters were working very hard to ensure that our guests understood the murky details of Newham Council’s finances and how this relates to the sell off of publicly owned housing.

The evening ended with some fireworks as Focus E15 campaign members challenged the Mayor of Newham Robin Wales over Newham council’s appalling housing record.pic-3

On Sunday, a housing conference co-hosted by Focus E15 and The Revolutionary Communist Group was held in Kings Cross.  The housing activists from AVM spoke about their own experience of homelessness and the extent to which the local Municipals in Budapest take children of homeless or evicted parents into care in a matter of hours. This is what they are exposing and fighting against.

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Focus E15 campaigners then spent a few days in Budapest learning more about AVM and housing issues in Hungary. Prior to 1990, state-owned housing in Hungary accounted for 23% of the overall national housing stock,  rising to 54% in Budapest and 25% in the cities generally.  However, social housing in Budapest has decreased significantly since 1990 when a capitalist government took hold.

We spent most of the time in Budapest in District 8, which is close to the city centre. District 8 has a very right wing Mayor who has accelerated the demolition of social housing and the eviction of poorer residents.  Various tactics are used by the authorities to evict people from the remaining social housing stock. Residents who are in arrears are removed immediately. Others are offered a buy-out deal for little money.  If you refuse this, you are in danger of eviction.  And if you have children and you find yourself evicted, your children will be removed and taken into care.img-20161115-wa0000.jpg

Focus E15 campaigners with AVM in Budapest. ‘Lakhatast Ne Zaklatast’ – ‘Homes not Harassment’.

We also found out that AVM have been supporting people with eviction resistance.  They took us to meet Gizzy, an amazing woman who has been fighting to keep her housing, whilst the Municipal try and push her into an old people’s home – she is in her mid-50s.

We spent a great deal of our time in Budapest discussing tactics with AVM.   We discussed ways to fightback, the confidence to be explicitly left wing and the need to link clear anti racist messages to the struggle for housing.  This is significant in Hungary as the central government is moving down a deeply racist path – this certainly has an effect on the Roma population we met in Budapest.

Other issues discussed were should you bring children to a demonstration, or is it too risky?  Also, how do you ensure that you are not simply ‘fire-fighting’ individual housing issues,  but ensuring people stay involved and are inspired to lead a bigger movement in the fight for housing?

If you would like to find out more about our trip to Budapest, see some slides and discuss all these issues more, Focus E15 will be holding a full presentation and discussion at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 December, Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN, 2.30-4.30pm. All Welcome.

Cockroaches march to Theori Housing offices as shutters come down on residents

On Friday 28 October, residents from Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City and residents of other Theori-run housing, supported by Focus E15 campaign, took their outrage and anger to Theori Housing Management offices in Leyton, Waltham Forest, east London to protest at appalling living conditions.

The demonstration highlights  the unfolding tragedy of London’s housing crisis and the fact that Labour-run Waltham Forest council continues to send vulnerable people out of the borough. Many single mothers and families with young children have been transported miles from their children’s schools, jobs, families and friends to Boundary House in Welwyn Garden City. The council uses companies such as Theori to facilitate this process.

Boundary House was originally built for single nurses, but is now home to displaced families crammed into tiny inappropriate, mouldy rooms, with cockroaches and other infestations.  The windows without child safety locks are a grave hazard for inquisitive toddlers and children are now miles from their schools. Assistant director of Housing, John Knight, who said that a degree of overcrowding was to be expected, recently concluded that Boundary House meets Waltham Forest council’s required standards and is happy to continue the relationship with Theori. Meanwhile people suffer.

So who are Theori? Theori Housing Management Ltd describe themselves as specialists in the property sector with a portfolio in excess of £500m and growing. Theori is used by at least 21 London councils.They have the gall to say on their website that ‘The team at Theori pride themselves on being specialists in the industry and therefore have an understanding of the factors that affect homeless families’. What an insult to the families displaced into Theori-run housing.The stress and isolation that comes from poor housing and social cleansing is causing a mental health crisis, with people forced into situations that are making them ill, as they are cut off from the support networks that keep them healthy.

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When the protest began, Theori locked its doors and hastily brought down the shutters in fear of those coming to tell their stories and in contempt for the residents of their properties who have just had enough of living in such unsuitable accommodation.

Closing the shutters did not shut out the protest and a lively demonstration spread out on the streets outside the locked office. It was colourful, noisy and militant with games for children and speakers on the mic helping passers-by to understand the issues. Protesters dressed up as cockroaches to illustrate the grim conditions residents are forced into. Home made placards got the message clearly across – Theori puts children’s lives at risk – horrible in Theori, horrible in practice  and Waltham Forest and Theori benefit from residents’ misery. One single mother, resident of Boundary House, told Focus E15 campaign that:

‘We are fed up, our phone calls and email ignored, our questions not answered and always told by Theori to contact the council and by the council to contact Theori. In Boundary House, nothing has been done to make the windows safe for toddlers and young children.’

Protesters stuck pictures of poor housing conditions to the front of the office and constructed a makeshift house of horrors on the street. The action was supported by   Haringey Housing group and the Revolutionary Communist group.

Stories of forced displacement by Boundary House residents ring alarm bell to the young mothers who lived in the Focus E15 hostel in the neighbouring borough of Newham and faced eviction themselves in 2013. The council told them they would be moved to Manchester, Birmingham or Hastings, into private-rented accommodation. The mothers of Focus E15 hostel stood together and said no to being sent away and the Focus E15 campaign began.

It is interesting to note that the day after the demonstration at Theori’s offices, Boundary House residents woke to the presence of Theori housing officers knocking on their doors asking if there are any problems. As one resident told them, ‘don’t ask, you know the problems, just do something about them!’

Stand together!
Expose the councils and the housing management companies!
Decent homes for all!
Stop social cleansing!
Repopulate the empty houses and stop demolishing council blocks!

Come to the next Focus E15 Campaign meeting on Saturday 5 November 2.30pm Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN to hear more about Boundary House, Newham council and all the campaign news.

 

Introduction

Excellent new website full of interesting local history.

Nelson Square -local history

This website is about the history of Nelson Square, an area currently surrounded by constant change. A river of money is running through Bankside and North Southwark and threatens to displace the long-standing communities that have lived here.

On Blackfriars Road, adjacent to Nelson Square, stands Linden Homes project “The Residence”. It was built in 2014 on land owned by Southwark Council which then had garages on it. When the garages were being demolished, the locals discovered that at least 15 people were living in those garages, many of them workers in local restaurants. A London rent was far beyond their means. The flats that replaced the garages now fetch around £1m or more as do most of those being built in this area. Many others in this area are luxury flats priced in the millions.

Private rents follow the same pattern. A flat in Nelson Square now costs £28,000…

View original post 192 more words

Actors Occupy Shopping Centre To Speak Out Against Social Cleansing

The Focus E15 campaign joined forces with a dynamic theatre company called You Should See The Other Guy on Sunday 16 October. An impromptu performance took place inside the Stratford Centre of a play called Land of the Three Towers, much to the surprise and delight of  shoppers and Focus E15 campaign supporters. Passersby were treated to short clips of  fresh and energetic dialogue, humorous songs and even some dance routines despite the security guards trying to break up all the fun. They did not succeed as the performers were indefatigable and would not be silenced. This really is what political theatre should look like.

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The play celebrates the action that Focus E15 campaign took  in 2014 when 4 flats were occupied on Carpenters Estate in protest at Newham Labour Council who were sending people out of the borough whilst keeping their perfectly decent flats boarded up for years on end. The campaign believes that there should be social housing, not social cleansing.

Land of the Three Towers  will now have a run at the Camden’s People Theatre from Tuesday 18 October to Saturday 22 October. Some tickets are still available.

Focus E15 campaign would like to take this opportunity to wish all the crew involved in Land of the Three Towers every success this week. See you in the audience!

 

Journalist Kate Belgrave reports on the chaos of the benefit system

Read this  important blog post by journalist Kate Belgrave which exposes the mess of the benefits system that is playing havoc with people’s lives and watch this space for more to come as people start to organise and fightback:

http://www.katebelgrave.com/2016/09/time-to-take-the-whole-benefits-claim-system-down-and-start-again-this-is-mayhem-seriously/http://www.katebelgrave.com/2016/09/time-to-take-the-whole-benefits-claim-system-down-and-start-again-this-is-mayhem-seriously/