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3 years of resistance: how we did it.

It all started three years ago, when 29 young mothers fought back against their evictions from Newham.

They refused to accept that their children would have to grow up without knowing their families, and that they would be cut off from their friends and communities. They demanded to be kept in London, to continue to live in the area they know as home.

After a fierce and lively campaign, Newham council conceded to the demands of the mothers and rehoused them in the local area. This was a victory for the mothers, and the Focus E15 Campaign was born.

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Since then, the campaign has grown beyond what any of us could have been imagined, and Focus E15 has successfully brought the issues of social cleansing and unjust housing to the forefront of the political left and into the public eye. Joined by residents, feminists, anarchists, academics, theatre makers, artists and by the regular input of the East London Revolutionary Communist Group, the campaign with panache, determination and steadfastness  has kept a weekly presence on the streets for 3 years.

On the first anniversary of the campaign, we staged a political occupation of four boarded up homes on the Carpenters Estate, where 600 empty homes sat in the shadow of the Olympic Park. Newham Council had said the properties on the estate were inhospitable, allegedly due to asbestos. Yet outrageously, during the Olympic Games, the council accommodated the Press in some of the depopulated flats in the tower blocks. This direct action brought attention to the fact that in a London Borough where 20,000 people are on the social housing waiting list, perfectly good homes sit empty, left to rot in order to justify their demolition to make way for luxury apartments.

The Occupation lasted for two weeks, during which Focus E15 were harassed by the council and our water supply was cut off. But with increased public support and media attention, the council, led by Robin Wales was forced to issue an apology in The Guardian newspaper. We left the occupied flats, peacefully and of our own accord, and the council agreed to open up 40 empty properties on Carpenters Estate, providing homes for people who desperately need them.

Last year, for our second anniversary we held a March Against Evictions, across the borough of Newham. Over a thousand people marched with us in solidarity, demanding safe and decent homes for all. The march ended back at the Carpenters Estate, and brought together an amazing assembly of local community groups, housing activists, squatters, communists and so many more. It was an amazing day, and demonstrated the growing strength of a grassroots movement for just housing.

Focus E15 has continued to go from strength to strength; fighting against evictions, homelessness and social injustice, and helping to inspire and empower disenfranchised and marginalised communities. Every week we are on the street, at our stall talking to the public, engaging with local communities and helping those that seek our support to raise awareness of the housing crisis. The campaign has demonstrated at council meetings, occupied empty council flats, accompanied  residents to housing appointments, demonstrated on  balconies, held rallies to raise awareness around housing and mental health issues and ensured that the street stall has a strong anti racist stance.

This year we managed to acquire some funding to open up our new office space, Sylvia’s Corner, named after a nod to the militant suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. It is fast becoming a radical hub in East London: open to other campaigns, hosting political meetings, screening free revolutionary films and providing a space for the local community to come and engage with the campaign. Spaces such as Sylvia’s Corner are becoming ever more necessary within the continuing gentrification of London. We must make sure that as grassroots working class activists we continue to hold spaces in a city that private developers and landlords are trying to claim solely as their own.

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Recently Focus E15 has been supporting an emerging campaign of mothers who have been pushed out of their homes and out of London by Waltham Forest Council. Boundary House Residents Fight Back have been fighting against appalling conditions in their temporary accommodation. Young children have been forced to live in one room apartments, with mould, cockroaches, dangerous facilities and large windows that do not lock, leaving a potential death trap for inquisitive children in the third floor flats.

Boundary House accommodation, in Welwyn Garden City, is over 20 miles, and an expensive train fair, from Waltham Forest. Young mothers have been forced to quit their jobs as they are not able to afford the commute. They have been separated from their families, their support networks, and dumped in rundown accommodation that was originally built to accommodate single training nurses and midwives, not familes.

Waltham Forest Council have told us that “Boundary House meets their required standards for temporary accommodation”, and they have admitted to encouraging residents to move into the private rented sector. Focus E15 has supported the residents in stating that this is simply not good enough. Boundary House Residents have begun their fight back against their unsafe housing, staging protests at the council housing office and holding a ‘Nag Week’ by bombarding Waltham Forest Council with complaints.

On the 28th of October  at 11am, Boundary House Residents will be leading a protest outside Theori Housing, the property management company hired by Waltham Forest council to manage temporary accommodation. Support Boundary House Residents, and join Focus E15 when we demand safe and decent accommodation for all.

Three years ago, Newham Council underestimated the strength of working class mothers coming together and demanding their right to safe and decent housing in London. Today, Newham Council sees us as a threat. They continue to try and undermine our struggle, from harassing and detaining our campaign members to stealing our tables.

But we will not be silenced and we will not be stopped. We have a lot of struggles ahead, most notably with enactment of the Housing and Planning Act, which if successful will essentially mean the end of social housing.

But together we are stronger. Working collectively, with grassroots and working class movements leading the way, we will continue to fight against social cleansing and for safe and decent housing for all.

Three years ago, 29 young mothers demonstrated the power of the people working together and fighting against injustice. Today, with working class mothers at the front and heart of our campaign, we continue that struggle.

In the words of Jasmin and Sam;

“This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis”

Join us to fight for long term secure housing at the first of a series of events marking 3 years of the Focus E15 campaign. We will be having an anniversary street stall outside Wilkos on Saturday 24 September at 12-2pm. Join us!

 

 

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JOIN US FOR A STREET PARTY – Saturday 24 September 12-2pm on our weekly street stall

 

This photo is a strong statement put out by Focus E15 campaign in September 2014. Taken on the first anniversary of the campaign, it shows the political occupation of empty flats on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. It exposes the lies of Newham Council and Labour mayor Robin Wales, who continued then and continue today, to send people, adults and children, out of borough and out of London for housing, when there are perfectly good homes locally. This action highlighted the years of sustained work by the residents of the Carpenters Estate who have fought, and continue to fight, to save their estate, against all machinations of the council which reached a peak in the run up to the Olympic Games 2012. We will not keep our eyes of this estate.  Focus E15 campaign’s demand to Newham Council remains:
REPOPULATE – CARPENTERS ESTATE!

THIRD BIRTHDAY EVENT
Focus E15 campaign is celebrating its third anniversary and as part of a series of events, invites you to come and join us this Saturday 24 September 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on The Broadway E15 on our weekly stall, with open mic. Bring family, friends, bring stalls and leaflets, bring information and enthusiasm, bring resistance and strength, bring your housing stories and your reality – the fight for decent, affordable, stable, long term housing is underway and together we are stronger.

BOUNDARY HOUSE, WELWYN GARDEN CITY
No to Unsafe and Unsuitable accommodation
The residents of Boundary House are speaking out, fighting back, exposing the practices of the councils who have sent them miles from their families, support networks, schools, jobs etc to unsuitable, unsafe and unsanitary accommodation. In the next few weeks there will be a series of events culminating with a protest in Leyton, east London, on Friday 28 October to expose the role of Theori Investment, the housing management company working with local authorities to secure accommodation in places such as Boundary House.
No to Unsafe and Unsuitable accommodation – follow the residents’ fight on facebook and twitter.
https://www.facebook.com/boundaryhouseresidents/

EAST END SISTERS UNCUT
Congratulations to the sisters who celebrated nine weeks in a reclaimed space in Hackney, raising the issues of the cuts to services for women facing or fleeing domestic violence and winning significant demands from Hackney Council who have promised to fill all empty homes in Hackney by September 2017, stop using private hostels and B&Bs for domestic violence survivors, to provide specialist domestic violence training to all hostel staff.
Keep the pressure up and get involved.
https://www.facebook.com/eastendsistersuncut/

THE AYLESBURY
Last week the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, accepted the Government Inspector’s recommendation not to confirm Southwark Labour Council’s Compulsory Purchase Order on the homes of leaseholders on the First Development Site of the Aylesbury Estate regeneration. This is an important precedent and we need to understand what lies behind this unexpected decision.
Read more about this from Architects for Social Housing.
https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2016/09/17/financial-compensation-for-human-rights-the-aylesbury-estate/

SYLVIA SCREENINGS
Free political cinema in Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E1 4DN – all at 7.30pm
Thursday 29 September – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – powerful documentary about people’s power in revolutionary Venezuela
Thursday 27 October – The Working Class Goes To Heaven – 1971 film about trade union and student struggles
Thursday 24 November – Every Cook Can Govern – documenting the life, impact and works of CLR James. Hosted by East London Radical Assembly.
Thursday 8 December – Free Angela Davis and All Political Prisoners. Hosted by East London Revolutionary Communist Group.

Contact Focus E15 Campaign if you would like to show a film as part of Sylvia Screenings.

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Police station targeted by housing activists

Congratulations to the ‘Balcony 4’ and Focus E15 campaigners  who successfully dropped banners from a disused, sold off and boarded-up police station in East Ham on Sunday 10 July 2016, to highlight the current crisis in housing.  This action took place during the Mayor’s Newham Show (will he call it the Robin Wales Show next year?!) – which is a two day council-sponsored event that takes place in a local park in East Ham.  Focus E15 campaign was determined to let people know what is really happening in the Labour controlled borough of Newham where Mayor Robin Wales is still at the helm. As the Mayor’s show took place, this action unfolded.

The background  story is that the campaign has protested during the mayor’s show over the last two years. In 2014, Robin Wales over-reacted to young mothers talking about rights to housing  during the show and a complaint was lodged against him. He faced the Newham Standards Committee and was found guilty of a breach of the code of conduct (watch from 1.45: http://youtu.be/gsPxancNiqk). Then in 2015, the council ordered private security to stop campaigners handing out leaflets during the Mayor’s show and had campaigners forcibly removed from the park in a heavy handed manner. (http://youtu.be/SpbnD9RzuQ0).

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During the Mayor’s show this year, one of Newham’s many empty buildings became a target.  Three large banners were unfurled from the balconies of a boarded up police station as a crowd gathered down below. The banners read “Newham – hundreds of empty homes“; “Room for everyone, No room for Racism“; “Stop social cleansing, keep us in London“.  Campaigners from the Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, The Green Party, Sisters Uncut, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and passers-by took to the mic to express their disgust at the amount of properties left empty by Newham council and demanded the reopening of the 400 empty homes on the Carpenters Estate. Many drivers hooted in support and passers-by joined in the protest and gave out leaflets.  One campaigner explained:

“…If they leave buildings empty like this police station – we will use them to make a political point. The housing crisis is driving people to despair and there should be no empty buildings whilst people are left to rot on our streets. We are also fed up of politicians blaming migrants for the housing shortage – it is just a dangerous lie -which is why one of our banners says – No Room for Racism…”

Whilst Robin Wales and his entourage were swanning around the park, the reality for thousands of people living in Newham is increased insecurity: rents are always rising, council homes are  being sold off and more people are living in overcrowded, appalling temporary accommodation. 35% of Newham residents earn below the London Living Wage, yet the mayor has a salary of £80,000 and last year the same amount again was spent on his expenses. 

Hundreds of messages of support for the temporary occupation of the police station’s balconies came flooding into the campaign. The Balcony 4 came down at end of the protest to applause and loud cheers from everyone on the ground.

Focus E15 campaign would like to say a big thank you  to all those who supported this action, with  your presence, your cameras and your voices, and to the speakers from East End Sisters Uncut, Revolutionary Communist Group, Feminist Library, Boleyn Dev 100, Tower Hamlets Renters and Newham Green Party. Another successful action, working together and challenging Newham Labour Council!

The campaign  would also like to send our solidarity and congratulations to East End Sisters Uncut for their current occupation of empty council homes in Hackney as they highlight the cuts to services for domestic violence and the closure of refuges. Please support their occupation over the coming days and weeks.

Focus E15 campaign’s next public meeting is on Saturday 2nd August 2016 at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN, to discuss ways forward for the campaign. Join us at 2.30pm

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NOT the Mayor’s Newham Show -Sunday street stall

Join the campaign on Sunday July 10 at  Newham Town Hall, Barking Road, East Ham from 3pm onwards.

Focus E15 campaign will be setting up a street stall at Newham Town Hall this Sunday at 3pm to shine a spotlight on Newham’s housing crisis during the Mayor’s Newham Show. Last year campaigners were forcibly removed from the show as they spoke out against evictions and social cleansing. This year we will celebrate our resistance by setting up a special street stall outside the town hall. During the street stall we will be speaking out against evictions and highlighting that:

Newham has the most empty properties out of any London borough, around 1,318 properties are lying empty – the total value of these empty properties stands at almost £470m.

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In September 2015 Focus E15 organised a March Against Evictions that took place in Newham

In 2015, 244 families from Newham were permanently sent out of London, with Newham Council citing that there was no space or money to house them in the borough.

If these issues matter to you, come and join out street stall outside East Ham town hall. If you have not been to the street stall before, just come and say hello if you are passing to go to the Newham Show. Join the campaign to demand that the empty properties in Newham are opened up to those who need them most. Put human being first! Stop sending people out of London.Decent homes for everyone!
Join the special street stall this Sunday and make your voices heard with Focus E15 campaign.

Please help spread the word and keep up to date with this event by joining the facebook event

Social Housing, NOT social cleansing!

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Children forced to live in appalling conditions

On Monday 27th June 2016, Boundary House residents went to Waltham Forest council’s housing office, Cedar House, to fight back against the appalling conditions they have been forced to live in.

Boundary House is a block of one-bedroom flats of ‘temporary accommodation’ in Welwyn Garden City which is outside London. From there it is a long and expensive commute back to Walthamstow where most of its current residents are from. The distance and cost means that residents are isolated from their family, friends and support networks, with one mother of two being forced to quit her job in London, as she could no longer afford the commute.

The conditions there are terrible, with mould, cockroaches, overcrowding and dangerous faulty appliances. One resident, pregnant and living with her young daughter, had to survive the winter with no heating. Still today, their heating has not been fixed.

On the third floor of Boundary house there is a young mother living with her now four month old baby, who was delivered by C-section. As there are no lifts in the block of flats, and the block is not safe or secure enough to leave the pushchair down stairs, every time this mother wants to go out she must carry her baby in the pushchair up and down three flights of stairs. The strain of this has meant that she has not been able to fully heal from the operation.

Boundary House was not built with families in mind. Nonetheless, Waltham Forest council have been sending their constituents to this accommodation and have done nothing to ensure the properties are fit for purpose. When Boundary House residents tried to raise these issues to Waltham Forest council, they have received little, if any, responses to their letters, phone calls and emails.

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Boundary House residents prepare to march to the housing office

This is why on Monday 27th of June, Boundary House residents decided enough if enough. Supported by Focus E15, and others,  we marched on the housing office, as a united community to demand to speak to someone who could act upon our demands. When we arrived,  security tried to refuse us entrance into the office. But we did not stand for it and insisted to be let it. Once the security had conceded to our demands to enter, we were told the Director of housing would not be able meet us. We refused to accept this and told them we would not move until Boundary House residents were able to speak to someone in charge.

It did not take long for the council to concede, and we won a group meeting with the Director of Housing for Waltham Forest Council, whom some Boundary House residents have been trying to get in contact with for over two years. We were taken to a conference room, and every resident had the chance to tell their story, express their concerns, fears and frustrations, and to demand the Waltham Forest Council treat its residents with respect and dignity.

In the meeting, the Director of Housing agreed to listen to our demands, to investigate the appalling conditions of Boundary House, and to hold another meeting in the coming weeks to update Boundary House residents as to what actions they have taken improve from the current conditions. This is a small victory of Boundary House Residents.

The action has demonstrated that when we fight together, they cannot ignore us! We will continue to fight, to make sure that Waltham Forest council holds true to their words, and we will continue to demand that Waltham Forest council bring Boundary House residents back to London.

SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!
Joins us on our street stall in Stratford outside Wilkos on the Broadway on Saturday from 12pm.

 

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Pushed out of London into unsafe accomodation

The residents of Boundary House, were pushed out of their homes in Waltham Forest, and placed in temporary accommodation in Welwyn Garden City. Some residents have now been there for almost four years. The conditions are dirty, dangerous and unsuitable for families and children. The residents are living with mould, cockroach infestation, temperamental water supplies and cramped conditions.

The commute to London is expensive and time consuming, meaning residents have been isolated from their communities and support networks. Waltham Forest Council has neglected their duty of care, and continue to to ignore the concerns of their constituents.

On Monday 27th June member of the Focus E15 campaign, some of the residents and other housing activists will be going to Waltham Forest Council to demand decent and safe homes for all the residents in Boundary House.

Join us!  Raise our voices. Meet us on Monday 27 June at 11.00am at Cedar House, 2A Fulbourne Rd, London E17 4EE, Waltham Forest Housing Office.

In the meantime you can help spread the message if you sign and share the petition  and read the demands of the residents.

Please join the facebook event for this action and spread the word through your networks.
 

Social Housing not social cleansing!

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Sanctioned while waiting to be sanctioned

A core member of the Focus E15 Campaign, Sam Middleton, has been caught in the catch 22 system of benefit sanctions.  She and another member of the Focus E15 campaign Kate Belgrave, recently spent a day figuratively wandering through the bureaucratic labyrinth that is the Department of Work and Pensions.

By Kate Belgrave 

Yesterday, I spent god knows how long on the phone to the Department for Work and Pensions (a charged-for call, if you don’t mind), having the most ridiculous conversation that I (and probably anyone) has ever had with them.

Finish reading the  rest of Kate Belgrave’s post here

More from Kate Belgrave at www.katebelgrave.com

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Everyday people face evictions in Newham

Newham’s housing is a health risk
Newham is the most overcrowded borough in London with conditions for many residents increasingly best described as slum housing. In Olympic legacy Labour Newham, in the fifth richest country in the world, every day people face evictions, social cleansing and literally being dumped on the streets.  Below are just two examples of the consequences of what can happen when you remove social housing.

Jennifer is the mother of five children and a grandmother. On Wednesday 8 June she will be at Bridge House homelessness Unit in Stratford, east London in the borough of Newham. Jennifer is about to be made homeless for the second time in nine months. She has been in temporary accommodation for 14 years, shunted from pillar to post, and in this last home, didn’t even totally unpack when she moved in nine months ago because she didn’t think it would last. She is right, a housing association put her in private rented accommodation and now the landlord says no more, possession order has come, meeting at Bridge House and all the usual emotions of fear, insecurity, shame, powerlessness. What will Jennifer tell her son who is on the autistic spectrum and is just settling in yet another home, when they have to move again, what of her son doing GCSEs and anxious about his exams. These are the issues facing her again.

Focus E15 campaign is supporting Jennifer in her request for long term stable housing in Newham. Housing Justice for Jennifer!

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Jennifer, second from the right joins the Focus E15 street stall

On Saturday 4 June, Focus E15 campaign held its monthly public meeting. The theme was Housing is a Mental Health Issue. A speaker from Psychologists Against Austerity spoke of the direct and indirect effect of poor housing and overcrowding on our physical and mental health. At the end of the meeting we met Beverley, a resident of Focus E15 building, or Brimstone House as Newham Council would like it now to be known, who is facing eviction. She has physical and mental health needs.  On Tuesday 7 June, Beverley was told to leave Brimstone House. When they  first placed her in Brimstone House, Newham Council said it was interim accommodation while a decision was made on whether to provide her with housing. Her dog, vital to help her maintain her health, was not allowed in the room and Beverley had to give her dog away causing her great anguish. The council assessed her as ‘homeless and eligible but not priority need’. She has now had her Housing Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) stopped. On Wednesday 8 June they will come to evict her and with no duty to house her, Beverley will be on the streets.

When Robin Wales announced in April that Newham Council had bought Focus E15 hostel, Brimstone House, from East Thames Housing Association, he said: ‘We cannot turn down this unique opportunity which makes both financial sense at the same time as helping some of our most vulnerable residents.’ So tell us Robin Wales, Labour Mayor of Newham, how throwing vulnerable people out onto the streets with their belongings is helpful?

On Thursday 16 June, at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards, Newham Labour Council is up for an award for the best trading standards and environmental health and has been nominated in the best environmental health category. What a slap in the face for the Newham residents who know the reality.

Expose the shameful actions of this Labour council.  No one should be indefinitely in temporary accommodation! No one should be out on the streets!

Repopulate the Carpenters Estate where over 400 homes in Stratford lie empty.

Join Focus E15 campaign weekly stall every Saturday 12-2pm, on The Broadway, E15 outside Wilko’s.

Join the protest at the Municipal Journal Local Authority Awards  where both Newham and Lambeth are due to receive awards:
Thursday 16 June 6.30pm
Hilton Hotel London W1K 1BE  

Social housing not social cleansing!

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Living  out of bags at Focus E15 hostel – awaiting eviction.

 

 

 

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Militant suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst inspires housing campaigners.

When councils choose names for our streets, parks and libraries, the radical past and present is often ignored. With this in mind, Focus E15’s newly acquired office/organising space has been named ‘Sylvia’s Corner’ after the militant suffragette and socialist Sylvia Pankhurst.  The space will be used as a base for Focus E15 campaign to organise from and will be available for other progressive groups in the area to use. If you can make a small regular donation to help fund the space for housing activists to use  -there are some links at the bottom of the page.

Please read on to find out more about the life of Sylvia Pankhurst.  

Sylvia Pankhurst was an active socialist  and suffragette organiser in the East End of London. She organised with working class women, speaking to 1000s of people in mass meetings about women’s rights. Throughout her life she was an outspoken critic of the British Empire and she formed links with the struggle for a free and independent Ireland. She was an early communist, inspired by the Russian Revolution and later on in her life became an anti-fascist organiser.  She was known in the East End of London, amongst working class women as ‘our Sylvia’.

Sylvia Pankhurst purposely broke away from the elitism of the Women’s Social and Political Union that was led by her Mother, Emmeline and her sister Christabel – who were chiefly interested in respectable upper class women gaining the vote. They did not think working class women should be leading the suffrage movement.

In response Sylvia Pankhurst formed the East London Federation of Suffragettes in 1912. She believed in the power of mass action from below and that the movement for women’s suffrage should be led directly by working class women. Sylvia explained that women should be “revolting against the hideous conditions about them and demanding for themselves and their families a full share of the benefits of civilisation and progress”. Sylvia forged links with unions and inspired local community resistance when she came under attack from the police.

Sylvia Pankhurst

She launched a newspaper called the Women’s Dreadnought in 1914 to amplify the voices of working class women. Housing issues were often written about and discussed inside its pages. At one point 20,000 copies a week were printed and handed out across the East End of London. During the First World War which Sylvia opposed, she renamed her newspaper ‘The Workers Dreadnought’. She helped to organise various social centres across east London so that women could come together to talk about their lives and base the politics on their lived experiences.

Despite these remarkable achievements and commitment to the struggle, Sylvia Pankhurst has often been ignored and her importance downplayed in the official histories of the Suffragettes  – as well as out of the history of radical ideas.

Focus E15 campaign was started by young mothers in the East End who were fighting for decent housing. They were prepared to challenge the system and confront authority. Therefore calling the campaigns newly acquired space Sylvia’s Corner directly links the current struggles led by todays  militant women to the inspiring revolutionary struggles of the past.

Please help Focus E15  Campaign keep  a base from which to organise from. Help us keep Sylvia’s corner  -an independent, political and community space in the East End of London.

500 people paying £2 per month could fund Sylvia’s Corner   or

100 people paying £5 per month could fund Sylvia’s Corner

Thank you for your support. Housing is a human right! No social cleansing!