This is an URGENT message for anyone interested in human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights and the ruthless cruelty of a Labour council.
Newham Council has discharged its homelessness duty to a pregnant woman who has a toddler and is due to deliver her second baby in February (therefore anytime now). She is currently living in Brimstone House, where families languish in emergency and temporary overcrowded accommodation in rooms built for one.
This piece is being published on Monday 10 January, the day that Newham Council’s responsibility for providing further temporary accommodation to this family ends.
The council housing officers have emailed to clarify and confirm there is no intention to evict this family on 10 January, but make it clear that this could happen if the council applies to the courts for possession. The council officer casually adds in the email that there will be more than sufficient notice if this happens.
HOW CAN THIS BE?
At the end of September 2021, this family was offered a move from Brimstone House, Victoria Street, E15, to another temporary accommodation. It was not a great place for various reasons including an insecure door that was a worry about safety, and she felt it not appropriate for her and her 21-month-old child and baby to come. She refused the offer and immediately Newham Council discharged its housing duty to the family. Within a few days, knowing the consequences, frightened about eviction and homelessness, struggling with her mental and physical health, she changed her mind and contacted the council. But too late for Newham Council, who don’t recognise a change of mind, and clearly would rather see families homeless than reverse their callous decisions.
A review was undertaken by another housing officer who concluded that they are satisfied that she refused a reasonable offer and will be able to manage in the private-rented sector and that there are no exceptional circumstances and the council will not be exercising any discretion. Therefore the reviewing officer upholds the decision that the council has no duty to secure this family with accommodation.
This is disgraceful. But it is also terrifying, because to say that someone can manage in the private-rented sector is to assume that they have money for a deposit and several months’ rent and a rich guarantor.
If Newham Labour Council insists the discharge of housing duty stands, they will proceed to evict this family and she will go into labour homeless and once she has delivered her baby, she must make another homeless application and has to be provided with emergency housing. Or perhaps the council expects her to make an application to court and challenge this situation in the last few days or weeks of her pregnancy. Neither are a satisfactory way to treat a family in need.
Court-mandated evictions have increased by 207% after the pandemic-related ban was lifted. In England there are 95,450 homeless households, two thirds of them with children, living in cramped and unsuitable temporary accommodation.
Focus E15 campaign stands with all those struggling for decent housing. We challenge Newham Labour Council to do the right thing and start 2022 by showing this family some compassion and humanity.
No such thing as intentional homelessness! No discharge of housing duty! No eviction!
Join us at the Focus E15 street stall on Saturday 15 January at 12pm outside Wilkos to make a stand for housing justice for all!
Saturday 18 December 2021. People gathered on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford E15 to challenge Newham Labour council and Mayor Rokshana Fiaz after the local ballot returned a Yes vote for the council’s regeneration plan. A Yes vote means demolition of almost 60% of the estate.
Focus E15 campaign along with residents, decanted residents, local people, Brimstone House residents and comrades from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! Newham Resists! and Newham Socialist Labour, spoke out with a clear message that council homes should be refurbished not demolished, that the council’s agenda is one of pursuing maximum profit, not housing those most in need, and that the local Labour councillors are part of the problem not the solution. As one speaker said, if they stand on the right side of history, they should resist or resign.
For two decades the council has been chipping away at the community and leaving homes empty and watching them fall into disrepair. As part of this current phase, the council has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure a Yes vote in the ballot, now rubbing their hands with glee that they have the green light to destroy more council housing. A resident from the estate was clear – how dare the council keep families cooped up in Brimstone House, overcrowded and unsuitable for families and children, while over 400 council homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate.
A former resident of 40 years on the estate, decanted in 2011, with empty promises of the right of return, said, people know they are being lied to and the fight is not over. As Thomas Sankara, African revolutionary from Burkina Faso, said in the 1980s:To those who have acquired houses and land through corruption, we say: Start to tremble!
Expose the corruption of the Labour council in Newham! Refurbish, Don’t Demolish the Carpenters Estate! Stand together to demand housing justice!
Focus E15 campaign sends solidarity greetings to all at the end of this complex year, thank you to all those who have supported the campaign through the lockdowns and restrictions. Let us move forward together in 2022.
RESIDENTS ACCUSE NEWHAM LABOUR COUNCIL OF SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY TO FORCE THROUGH A VOTE FOR DEMOLITION
On Tuesday 14 December 2021, a resident ballot on the Carpenters Estate in Newham, East London, returned a Yes vote in favour of the council’s regeneration plans, meaning almost 60% of the estate will be demolished for ‘regeneration’. This is a deep blow for residents who want to refurbish and save the existing estate as it is.
Residents have called out the whole of the ballot process as being deeply biased in favour of the council’s plans. Newham council and the council’s housing company, Populo Living have spent at least £350,000 on campaigning for a Yes vote, whilst campaigners had no access to public funds.
Throughout the consultation and ballot process, Carpenters’ residents and supporters of Focus E15 campaign have complained of underhand tactics used by Newham Council and Populo Living. Blatant propaganda posed the council’s plans as the only viable option.
For example, Populo Living’s newsletter of October 2021, states:
The future of The Carpenters is up to you – if you want to build a stronger estate, you need to vote YES in the ballot at the end of October.
‘Vote Yes’ graphics have been seen on billboards, newsletters, community spaces and in the Landlord Offer document which the vote was based on. Residents have told of continual door-knocking on the estate by both Populo Living and Source Partnership employees who are the Independent Resident and Tenants Advisors.
A huge amount of public money has been spent in the process of canvassing for a yes vote. A Freedom of Information request found out that at least:
£146,275 has been spent by Newham Council on running consultancy services
£224,000 has been sent by Populo Living on running consultancy services
£4,400 was spent on a Community fun day
Newham Council has followed the GLA’s Good Guide to Estate Regeneration in order to secure funding for future development.
However from July 2018 to March 2020, all of the ballots held on estates in London have resulted in ‘Yes’ votes for regeneration – in every case this resulted in demolition.
Councillors in Haringey have been so outraged by this process that they have called for an independent inquiry into the regeneration ballot carried out on the Love Lane Estate, following allegations of pressure put on residents.
Under GLA guidance, neither Newham Council nor Populo Living is required to put forward a balanced argument and they are allowed to lobby with huge resources for their preferred position. Residents who wish to lobby against the council have no resources made available to them.
Such one-sided campaigning and clear inequality are unlawful in referendums and elections.
The Greater London Authority and Local Authorities’ ballots are a cover, using the voting and the notion of democracy for ultimately destroying council homes. This corrupt and unequal process must end.
Focus E15 campaign and residents will be meeting on the Carpenters Estate, Newham, London E15, from 12-2pm on Saturday 18 December (next to the shop in the middle of the estate) to discuss the next steps in our campaigning, to shine a spotlight on housing issues in East London and say to the council and Populo Living:
Hands off the Carpenters Estate!Join us and residents to make more planson Saturday 18 on the estate. Together we are stronger.
Another family has been moved into the hostel Brimstone House in Victoria Street in Stratford during the last eight weeks. This means that Newham Labour council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz still think that rooms built for single young people are adequate to house families. This has to stop! People need to be housed in decent housing. Shame on the council and those in local government who sit by and let the housing crisis in Newham escalate whilst people suffer and homes remain empty.
This family is a father, a mother and a four month old baby. There is just about space for a double bed and a sofa. Currently the father sleeps on the sofa while the mother sleeps with the baby in the bed, which is against the advice from midwives, health visitors and GPs about safe sleeping for babies. It is just not appropriate for an adult to sleep all night on a sofa.
There is little or no ventilation, the room is quickly filled with cooking smells which can be overpowering, and the toilet flush does not work properly despite repeated requests for it to be fixed, it has not been repaired. The alarm continues to go off in the building and there is drilling early in the morning. It is no wonder that these parents are distressed, tearful and unwell. There is no space and nowhere to put their belongings. It is clear that Brimstone House is no place to raise a child and the housing is not suitable.
Meanwhile, the roomy council flats around the corner on Carpenters estate remain empty and there are trees growing out of them! What a waste. We want to save every single council flat on this estate because this housing offers the chance for long term stability, community and cheap rent. A chance for a decent life.
Please join us on Saturday 18 December 12-2pm on the Carpenters Estate where over 400 home have stood empty for over a decade, where currently a ballot is underway and where the council is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds to secure a yes vote to its regeneration scheme which will mean demolishing 60% of the estate.
We need more council homes, not fewer! We need families like the one above from Brimstone House, and the thousands of others on the housing waiting list and those in temporary and emergency accommodation, to be housed decently.
Join us on Saturday 18 December at 12 noon in the middle of Carpenters Estate in Stratford (near the shop) to fight for housing, to make a stand against capitalism, against racism in housing and to restore people’s dignity.
A local resident speaks to Focus E15 campaign about what Carpenters Estate means to her.
When I reminisce about my best moments growing up, I always think of the Carpenters estate. I can’t imagine growing up in a more fulfilling community.
Across all generations we supported one another. You had the over 65s, some who had known each other since the 2nd World War. They had grown up together and then raised their children together. It was a very close, caring and supportive community that felt more like a family. Us children would all attend Carpenters primary school and play together afterwards in the lovely green spaces and park. There was so many different cultures too, I tried so many different cuisines and learned a lot by being around different ethnicities and religions. I actually believed the whole world was multicultural like the estate I grew up on, because to me Carpenters was the only world I knew.
Over the years we have seen people be moved away and relocated. It started with the Olympics. So many people were paid off and moved on. The place was becoming more and more deserted and neglected. There was never a problem to start with on Carpenters, it was just an inconvenience to Newham council and the London Olympics to have ‘common people’ so close to the games and the new Westfield. They were creating a new Stratford and we were an inconvenience to that image.
Now they are proposing to regenerate the whole area! That will mean 60% of homes being demolished. That includes my Grandmothers house which she worked her whole life to own, just to be told in her early 80s that she is at risk of losing it, because they need the land now for their new plans. It’s all what works for them and they never consider the people they are affecting. My Grandmother had been very stressed due to thinking she had to move. Carpenters estate is all she knows and she loves her home and didn’t want to move. Also she was worried about decorating or changing carpets in case she is forced to move.
The council have said that the residents of the estate supports demolition which is a lie. Why would we want our homes destroyed? If they want to support residents, why not improve the conditions on this estate right now? We had already voted for refurbishment over redevelopment but now they are saying something completely different. They have been trying to degrade the estate to make it seem that they have the solution, which is to demolish, because in the long run, it’s what’s makes them the most profit, they do not care about the welfare and health of the elderly and the stress and affects on mental health of local residents.
We must Vote No to keep Carpenters alive and rebuild a community that they demolished years ago. Choose refurbishment over demolition. Community over Capitalism. Everyone deserves a place to live and to stay in their homes that they love and feel content in.
What can you do to help?
Join the Focus E15 campaign street stall outside Wilkos in Stratford from 12pm and then on the Carpenters Estate near the shop this Saturday 20 November from 1pm.
A resident of the Carpenters Estate, Stratford, Newham, London E15, speaks out:
From the day I was born, I have lived on the Carpenters Estate. It was also home to my Mother, Grandfather, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, along with Aunts, Uncles, Cousins, childhood friends and so on.
It has been a special place for me and my past generations, so you can see why the place means so much to me.
I reached many milestones on Carpenters, I learnt to ride a bike on this estate, had my first kiss (cringe), began nursery and even took my first steps here. Carpenters had and still has a great community of elderly and young people.
A lot of us went to Carpenters primary school and then would all play out afterwards on the beautiful green spaces we have on the estate, plus the park and cage, where we would arrange some serious football matches and the different blocks would go up against each other.
We never had any trouble around here, we was like one big family that all looked out for each other.
Summer-times were the best, because all us kids will play outside until the street lights came on, one of our favourite activities being our 100m races down the slope at the back of Dennison point.
These are beautiful memories of an estate that Newham council now wants to demolish. Like we are now seeing with many inner London boroughs, they want to take away the authenticity of our great East End and get rid of beautiful homes to replace them with new-builds. The homes they are proposing are nowhere near the standard of homes that we already have here.
Newham is already very populated as it is, and the council want to overcrowd Stratford even more, shelving people on top of each other between plasterboard, where the walls are so thin, you can literally hear your neighbours farting next door. There are many over 60s still residing on the estate, and after a life of working hard, they do not want the stress and pressure of having to leave a place that many have called home for there whole life. Tragically a lot of residents have died from the uncertainty and stress that they will have to move from their beloved homes and it is unacceptable.
It is very sad that in this day and age profit is more valuable than a human life. Not to mention the horrendous carbon footprint this will have on our already crippled environment, that the pollution from demolition and rebuilding will produce. With Newham having one of the highest pollution levels in the country, it is very concerning that Newham council’s proposed plans have no consideration towards making the global climate crisis any better. Yes I do believe we have to move with the times, but what I don’t believe in is liveable durable homes that are already here being knocked down to build new ones. I don’t believe in the elderly being forced to move, or stressed to death, and The Carpenters Estate being demolished to make way for more overcrowding and pollution. I vote for refurbishment over demolition and community over capitalism.
So I will be voting NO to demolition and hope others will too.
We must fight for the people, the planet and our beloved Carpenters Estate.
The resident ballot for the demolition of the Carpenters Estate has been announced. Focus E15 encourages residents to vote NO and calls on all housing campaigners to reject the demolition of these council homes!
The ballot for the future of the Carpenters Estate will run from Friday 29 October 2021 to Tuesday 23rd November 2021. Should a ‘yes’ vote be returned, at least 60% of the estate will be demolished over a period of 15-20 years. There will inevitably be a loss of secure council housing.
Focus E15 campaign loudly endorses a ‘No’ vote.
Read the details below for all the background… and join the resistance!
A history of struggle
The Carpenters Estate was built in the 1970s on a 23-acre site in the London Borough of Newham. Consisting of 100% council housing, it provided badly needed low-cost housing in London’s East End.
The estate consists of 710 homes; 434 in three high rise blocks (James Riley Point, Lund Point and Dennison Point), and 276 in low rise blocks and terraced houses. Newham Council is the majority freehold owner of the estate, with part being owned by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters. The estate also has non-residential uses in the form of a primary school, a crafts college, community centre, pub and local shop. The estate was previously managed by a Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), with management transferred back to Newham Council in 2015.
This estate now houses residents who are secure council tenants, temporary accommodation tenants, private tenants as well as some leaseholders and freeholders.
Today this land is seen as prime London real estate, sitting in the shadow of the London Stadium and neighbouring Westfield shopping centre and Stratford International train station. At the same time, it belongs to a borough suffering a catastrophic housing crisis. It has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, one out of every 24 people. It has over 5,500 families with children living in temporary accommodation – more than the entire North of England combined. There is in excess of 27,000 on the waiting list for council housing. The potential of losing council housing due to redevelopment is particularly brutal in this borough. A borough which pre-pandemic had the highest number of children in the country living in poverty (39,638 or 52%), the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding, at 25% of dwellings. By June 2020, Newham had the second-worst Covid19 death rate in the country.
The struggle to save the estate has already been a long one. Over the past 20 years, various plans have been laid before residents and later retracted as the community have mobilised, and local council administrations and funding options have changed. 2001 saw regeneration options firstly ‘explored’. 2012 saw a significant unity of students and residents in opposing a UCL campus being built on the estate. In 2014 Focus E15 held an occupation of empty homes which received national attention. A community plan was even submitted by the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum in May 2019, but was later rejected by the London Legacy Development Corporation, the Planning Authority for the estate.
Yet the decanting of the residents has continued from 2004/2005 until today. A report to the Newham cabinet meeting of 4 December 2018 makes clear why:
“‘4.19 The purpose of continuing the decant programme at this time is to continue to prepare the site for redevelopment as soon as possible”.
In fact, in a report to Cabinet on 18 February 2020, the Council forcast a spend of £700,000 for extra security costs on the estate. Of this spend the report notes:
“‘This is mainly to protect the estate from squatters pending the redevelopment proposals of which discussions are ongoing”
It is clear the intention of Newham Council has barely changed, no matter if Mayor Robin Wales or Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz is in charge.
What are the plans?
Plans include the demolition and rebuild of new homes and buildings at Dennison Point, Gibbins Road, Doran Walk, Jupp Road, Kennard Road, Rosher Close, Warton Road and Wilmer Lea Close, and the refurbishment of existing homes at James Riley Point, Lund Point and the tenanted terrace houses on Biggerstaff Road. 60% of the estate will be demolished. At least 50% of refurbished/new built homes will be private. The others aim to be ‘genuinely affordable’ (more on this below).
Who is involved in the regeneration?
Populo Living is Newham Council’s solely owned housing company, previously called Red Door Ventures (RDV). RDV’s strategic aims were ‘investment value and dividend return’. They were a one stop gentrification shop. Is the re-branded version, Populo Living, any different?
In the The Carpenters newsletter of October 2021, Newham Council claim:
“Vote YES for a plan created in Newham, for Newham, with no outside developers involved and all profits going back into the community.”
Sarah Gaventa previously sat on the board of Populo Living. Gaventa has a history of working for Berkeley Group and Lendlease, two of the most prominent private property developers in the country. In fact, she was also previously on Lendlease’s payroll as the public space champion for their Elephant & Castle regeneration project and had chaired the Community Forum for the Elephant and Castle for the last three years. The nightmarish development of Elephant and Castle which has torn working class families from their homes, and replaced them with luxury towers for the rich has been one of the most heated battlegrounds for any housing campaigner. Can Newham Council really claim there are “no outside developers involved” when Populo has a history of board members who are also working for property developers?
Who is funding the development?
In February 2019 Newham Council were awarded £107m as part of the Greater London Authority The Mayor of London’s Building Homes for Londoners scheme. The Carpenters Estate development will receive at least part of this funding. What this means is that the Council is expected to adhere to Greater London Authority and Mayor of London guidelines (and if not the money will be retracted). These include the following:
The Mayor (of London) believes that for estate regeneration to be a success there must be resident support for proposals, based on full and transparent consultation from the very start of the process, and meaningful ongoing involvement of those affected.
The Mayor (of London) also wishes to seethe level of affordable housing – particularly homes where rents are based on social rent levels – maintained and, wherever possible, increased through estate regeneration schemes. He believes plans must be developed through full and transparent consultation and resident involvement.
However, when considering the option of demolishing and rebuilding homes, councils, housing associations and should always consider alternative options to demolition first.
It is also important to positively engage with: elected local councillors and Members of Parliament; residents, businesses and other stakeholders who may not be located within the boundaries of an estate but who will be affected by the process of regeneration’.
Let’s take these in turn.
What does full and transparent consultation look like?
Source Partnership is the ‘independent’ body appointed by Newham Council to do the consultation. Previous clients include none other than Southwark Council – including work on the Aylesbury regeneration. Like Elephant & Castle, the social cleansing and destruction of the Aylesbury estate is viewed by housing campaigners as a disaster.
Although there have been many newsletters sent, door knocking and even the opening of the Dovetail space on the estate, offering gardening, art and exercise classes, it is highly questionable if the Council and Source Partnership’s interactions have been full and transparent. Take, for example, the October 2021 newsletter sent to residents. It does not use the word demolition once, despite a proposal of 60% demolition. It also includes the following:
>Vote YES for a plan created in Newham, for Newham, with no outside developers involved and all profits going back into the community.
>We’re ready to start building a new future, all we need is the green light from you. The vote is completely independent – not run by the council.
>The future of The Carpenters is up to you – if you want to build a stronger estate, you need to vote YES in the ballot at the end of October.
>What will happen if residents vote “No”? The Council will not be able to proceed with current proposals, will not be able to build new homes, and will have to re-consider how it is able to restore the estate.
So it’s yes…or nothing…?!
Well, not quite. According to a Planning submission report to Cabinet in March 2021  upon a no vote the Council would:
“then consider a programme of refurbishment across the estate to bring units back into use”
This doesn’t seem to have been made clear to residents. This deliberate lack of clarity is continued in door knocking exercises to ‘sell’ the yes vote. In scripts from September 2021 written by Source Partnership and edited by Newham Council, the following is included:
“If most residents vote ‘YES’ we are ready to start building a new future for the estate for generations to come, all we need is the green light from you.”
“Vote ‘YES’ if you agree with the proposals and you want a new home on the new Carpenters Estate.”
“Vote ‘YES’ if you are overcrowded and want a new home which is the right size for your family.”
“The future of The Carpenters is up to you – if you want to build a stronger estate, you need to vote YES in the ballot at the end of October.”
“To support the plan put together by Carpenters residents, who have the neighbourhood’s best interests at heart.”
“Vote YES for fast progress after 15 years of waiting: we’re ready to start work in early 2022.”
“What happens if the ballot is unsuccessful?If you vote NO, this regeneration won’t go ahead. We won’t have the funding to build new homes or refurbish the existing ones. We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and it might take years before a new plan can be agreed. “
The above has been drafted by Source Partnership, the Independent Tenants’ and Residents’ Advisor with the input of Newham Council. It does not include the word demolition once.
This is not full and transparent consultation – this is propaganda to push through a ‘yes’ vote.
2. What types of homes are proposed for the Estate?
The Council says they are “working towards providing 50% genuinely affordable homes”. The wording shows there is no certainty of achieving this. In any case, what is ‘genuinely affordable’ rent compared with traditional council rent?
As per the Mayor of London’s website ‘genuinely affordable homes’ funded by the Mayor (GLA) includes London Living Rent, Social Rent, London Affordable Rent and London Shared ownership.
In plans, those residents already on secure council tenancies will keep the same rent levels. Those in Temporary Accommodation (who will be given a secure tenancy if the demolition goes ahead) will be on London Affordable Rent. The London Affordable rent benchmark is £161.71 per week for a bedsit or 1-bed flat. Currently, a council tenant in the Carpenters Estate pays just over £92 per week. Therefore all ‘new’ council tenancies on the estate will pay almost 45% increase on traditional council rents. Anyone moved onto the estate from Newham Council’s waiting list will also be on this higher rent rate.
Furthermore, leaseholders and freeholders on the estate report that they will not receive enough money (including added compensation) for the sale of their properties to be able to purchase again on the new development. Their only option would be shared ownership, which is itself widely criticised.
3. Have the council considered all options but demolition first?
The Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum (launched 2015) created a genuine neighbour led plan consisting of refurbishment of existing homes and ‘sensitive infill’. No demolition.
On 27 June 2017, then Director of Regeneration and Planning for NC wrote to Janiz Murray, Secretary of the GCNF: ‘Overall, LBN Planning conclude that while the plan has marshalled a range of ideas, much hangs off its central presumption of retention rather than demolition and redevelopment, which, due to lack of contextual analysis, is somewhat tenuous in itself and in relation to higher tiers of policy.’
At best, Newham Council were unenthusiastic of GCNF’s plans. But this feeling hasn’t changed and the Forum feels that their plans have been pushed aside and not considered by the council as a real option for the estate.
4. Has the Council engaged with other stakeholders outside the boundaries of the estate?
Focus E15 campaign has been named as a ‘community stakeholder’ in a council document regarding the estate, along with Architects for Social Housing (ASH). Yet, we do not believe we have been specifically consulted by the council or their reps about the future of the estate. Any information and discussion we have had with Newham Council on the Carpenters Estate has been a result of lobbying and demonstrating.
We believe everyone in borough has the right to decide if council homes will be demolished!
….And the future?
We have only scratched the surface. We have had reports from those who have a Right-of-Return to the estate not being given ballot information. We have heard concerns about there not being enough school spaces on the estate when new families arrive. We have heard from residents who feel they are not genuinely being listened to, and in fact feel bullied or exhausted into voting ‘Yes’ as they have suffered long term disrepairs.
If nothing else, residents have the right to be made aware that no matter what the Council tells them now, in estate regeneration, ‘the market’ always dictates:
Carpenters Estate: Landlord Offer and proceeding to a Residents Ballot (Report to Newham Cabinet meeting on 20 July 2021)
“In the event of a significant long-term recession or other economic factors impacting on viability then more difficult options might have to be considered, such as looking at the specification of the built environment or, in a worst-case scenario, reducing the proportion of affordable housing.”
Newham Council and their subsidiaries cannot be allowed to control the narrative and future of the Carpenters Estate. We must endorse a genuine community-led plan such as that submitted by the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Forum. Homes should be refurbished, opened and rent be set at council level.
 LLDC was established in April 2012 under the Localism Act, responsible for delivering the Olympic Legacy promise ‘transforming and integrating one of the most challenged areas in the UK into world-class, sustainable and thriving neighbourhoods’.
 Carpenters Estate Joint Venture Procurement – Update (Report to 4th December 2018 Cabinet meeting)
Overall Financial Position 2019/20 (section 7 of report to Cabinet meeting on 18 Feb 2020)
Thank you for the following thoughts by our guest blogger Toni Adscheid from Germany, who supported the campaign on the street stall and in meetings when he was in London, and who participated in our online meetings during lockdown. It is through back and forth conversations such as these that we are inspired to carry onwards and take up the fight for housing with greater clarity and awareness of the role campaigning plays in the tremendous struggle that lies ahead. Educate! Agitate! Organise!
The following text is based on a talk, given at a conference on “Decolonizing the curriculum” via zoom, to an audience of university lecturers, schoolteachers and students. The conclusions I draw, derive both from my experiences in teaching undergraduate geography students as well as my observations and interactions with members of Focus E-15 campaign during the weekly street stall in Newham, organisational meetings and personal conversations. I also want to clarify that I regard capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy as inherently intertwined structures of oppression.
Contemporary neoliberal university practices attempt to fix the generation of knowledge through curricula to the university, which is regarded as the only place for study. Moreover, in neoliberal universities, students come to see themselves either as problem, because they need to earn credit to graduate, or as professionals after they graduated. These attempts of fixing the generation of knowledge to the place of the university as well as fixations upon students as either problems or professionals, I argue, are two examples for colonizing knowledge in neoliberal universities around the globe. In this regard, colonization can be understood as the normalization of structures of oppression in which people are defined as problems and offered salvation through institutionalized settings, which supposedly hold the tools that people need to solve their problems. In the face of colonizing the generation of knowledge through attempts of fixing (of students) and fixations (on the university as place for knowledge generation), what would it mean to escape and thus refuse these attempts of fixing the generation of knowledge to the university and attempts to fix students? For me, this entails two things: To acknowledge that, outside of the university, people study all the time and that amateurism should be encouraged rather than sanctioned.
As scholars like Stefano Harney and Fred Moten remind us, when we think about study we ought to think as much about nurses in the smoking room as we are about the university (Harney & Moten 2013: 112). Their argument opens up knowledge generation beyond the walls of the university building as people constantly try to figure out ways to be with one another, despite attempts to keep them apart, either by promises to become better by themselves or by fixing them in place. This mode of study is what Focus E-15 engages in, and what authors like Paul Watt and Penny Bernstock continue to emphasize. If we are truly committed to challenge current ways of colonizing knowledge, we have to look no further than the street corners, the narrow alleys, the council housing estates. Here, in the outside of institutionalized knowledge generation, people constantly try to figure out why they ended up in their current situation but also think and practice how to live otherwise. This is what Focus E-15 continues to highlight. People who are not recognized to have a voice, especially young mothers in so called ‘temporary accommodation’, constantly figure out ways how to escape and thus refuse attempts of being fixed, both in place and as persons. They refuse because there is nothing wrong with them and nothing can hold them; they are already amazing. As Saidiya Hartman wrote in relation to the US:
‘The decades between 1890 and 1935 were decisive in determining the course of black futures. A revolution in a minor key unfolded in the city and young black women were the vehicle. This upheaval or transformation of black intimate life was the consequence of economic exclusion, material deprivation, racial enclosure, and social dispossession; yet it, too, was fueled by the vision of a future world that might be.’ (Hartman 2019: xv).
Young women, especially the young mothers of Focus E-15, are radical thinkers who never fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise; this is what the campaign can teach university students. This is what I convey in my teachings to my students in order to decolonize knowledge generation: You are not the only ones who study, learn to listen to the radical thinkers who continuously study around you. Initiating modes of mutual learning, between in and outside the university, then becomes an imminent task if knowledge is about to be truly decolonized.
My understanding of young mothers as radical thinkers then led me to the realisation that neoliberal institutions, such as universities, fear those who they consider amateurs. Amateurs who supposedly do not fully know what they are talking about, those who refuse to be creditors after graduation, who refuse to graduate because they are committed to study outside of the university. The university tries to get rid of that amateurism through us, people who are involved in teaching. Our task, so we are told, is to enable students to graduate by giving them credit. Hereby, those who do not receive credit are considered to have failed, as they refuse to earn credit. However, as Focus E-15 continues to show, the aim of study is not to become a professional (who supposedly knows everything) but about fostering a kind of collaborative amateurism. This kind of collaborative amateurism in which for example a German PhD-student studies housing issues in the UK, can create openings through which one can be affected by others, dispossessed and possessed by others. It allows students to be opened up to the vast array of knowledge continuously generated around them and to be affected by that knowledge; it helps them to realize that they can never be entirely ready, never fully become professionals.
Practicing amateurism then means to acknowledge that study happens with each other, in conversation with those who never fail to imagine how the world might be otherwise. For those of us who are committed to keep ‘studying as amateurs’ it is important to stay with the trouble; even though we might be in neoliberal universities, we are not of them.
Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The undercommons: Fugitive planning & black study.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor. We are not neutral and we will not be silent.
Israel is again waging open warfare on the Palestinian people, dispossessing and evicting people from their homes in illegally-occupied East Jerusalem, fuelling violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and threatening a full-scale war on Gaza. Already there is mounting death toll and injury and people throughout the world are horrified to learn of Israel’s attacks on children and civilians.
Focus E15 campaign recognises that Britain, arming and funding Israel, is complicit and active in these atrocities committed against the Palestinians. We stand in solidarity with those fighting dispossession, military occupation and the onslaught by one of the world’s biggest military powers, the Israeli Apartheid State.
Since 1917, the British government has supported the Zionist project in Palestine – the settler colonial project that expelled Arab Palestinians from their land, culminating in the Nakba of 1948 when 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly removed, and the setting up of the State of Israel that continues to dispossess the Palestinians of their homes, their land, their history.
Gaza has been under a siege imposed by Israel and Egypt for 14 years which has crippled the economy and health care provision, they have been devastated by the Covid19 pandemic and denied vaccines by Israel.
As we write, the people of Gaza are being bombed with Israeli ground troops amassing at the border – Gaza where half the population are children, and the median age is 18, one of the most densely populated regions on earth.
In January this year, the prominent Israeli human rights group B’Tselem published a report declaring Israel not a democracy but overseeing an apartheid regime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel has one of the largest military arsenals in the world and points its full might at the Palestinians. Britain and the USA, fund and arm Israel. Britain is the second biggest arms exporter in the world – with £11bn worth of orders. Between 2014 and 2018, Britain increased its Single Individual Export Licenses for arms sales to Israel to a value of £361 million. In December 2020, the US Government provided Israel with $3.3 billion in ‘security assistance’ and $500 million for US-Israel missile defence cooperation.
In Britain, a rich imperialist country, the capitalist crisis is evident with increasing food bank need, homelessness and poverty. The British government that imposes this austerity at home, continues its support for Israel and its racist war against the Palestinian people.
If you can not get to the central London demoon Saturday, join Focus E15 campaign on the streets of Stratford east London on Saturday 15 May 12-2pmoutside Wilko’sto raise the issue of Palestine in our communities.
No War on Gaza!No War on the West Bank!
No dispossessions and evictions from East Jerusalem!
At a meeting with families from Brimstone House and Focus E15 campaign with the head of temporary accommodation in Newham, one of the mothers expressed what they are all going through, summarised in the powerful points below. This important piece of writing is going up on our website on 5 May.
This is a very important day in the history of struggle in the east end, as it is the birthday of Sylvia Pankhurst, who was born in 1882, 139 years ago. Sylvia Pankhurst was a courageous fighter for human rights, for working class rights, an internationalist, a communist, an anti-racist and anti-fascist, an anti-imperialist. 100 years ago, in the east end of London, Sylvia Pankhurst was active on the streets, in the meeting rooms and organising to challenge the local council and the government about housing, healthcare, education……
The women of Brimstone House are continuing that fight for their rights and the rights of their children. Please read below and understand that the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst’s fight goes on and we can still win important and inspiring victories and be part of building resistance by the solidarity of collective action and class struggle.
Long Live Sylvia Pankhurst! All strength to the women and children of Brimstone House!
This is a summary of what it is like Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Newham, as expressed by the current residents:
There is no welcoming process at Brimstone House and no information about how to complete relevant housing application forms in order to move on.
It is not clear who the case worker is for individual families to discuss their applications or housing needs. When a case worker is finally assigned, it is near-impossible to get hold of them resulting in being bounced from one department to another, and having complaints/issues fall in between the cracks in the system.
There are families living in Brimstone House for three years or more without a housing suitability assessment being completed and ongoing struggles to obtain bidding numbers.
The rent for studio rooms in Brimstone House is close to £800 per month, not including bills and council tax. A council home with two bedrooms, two storage units, a kitchen, a living/dining room, is about £500 a month.
Single mothers are having to leave their work/jobs, to depend on benefits, because they are worse off working and becoming more impoverished by having to pay full rent. Universal Credit deducts 63 pence out of every £1 after the first £292.
The studio flats in Brimstone House were designed for the purpose of a single person’s living accommodation, yet the council is now using them for families with three or more children, as well as partners. Families are forced to live, eat, share bunk beds/sofas, in the same living space.
It is shocking to think that anyone should be living in such squalid conditions in Britain, the fifth or sixth richest country in the world. Made worse by Newham’s slogan: ‘People at the heart of everything we do.’
The flats have numerous hazards that also impact on life at Brimstone House, these include mould, bugs, rodents, and other pests (about which letters are frequently circulated). The other main hazard is the frequency with which the lift breaks down. Then single mothers, pregnant women, people with disabilities are seen carrying buggies, pushchairs, shopping, children up and down nine floors.
The water boilers are often broken, faulty, or too small to provide what is needed in a British winter and often there is no answer to the request for plumbers to fix faulty showers. There are occasions when residents have been told to use buckets. Many flats have heaters that are not working, lighting is always faulty both in the corridors and the studio flats – and electricity bills are extortionate, often coming to more than £100 a month. The communal washing machine area is a health hazard with leaks and floods and inefficient machines which are known for recycling household filth.
The bare flooring of wooden floors on many rooms are uneven and adults and children cannot go barefoot. Not being allowed to bring any furniture in means that families are forced to share bunkbeds and sleep on sofas, do not have enough chairs for everyone to even sit together to eat. Requests for more furniture are refused.
Children are the most affected by these living conditions, with an increase in skin allergies, eczema and respiratory infections and wheezy episodes. Their mental and physical wellbeing is compromised. There are children developing obesity because of their confined space. The restrictions being even more in the pandemic. Children’s toys and belongings often have to be left in the corridor as there is no storage space. This leaves parents in fear of possessions being thrown away as letters are circulated warning not to leave things there.
Children in Brimstone House have no space to study, to be free, and to form their own individual personalities in their own private space; Children are ashamed to have no bedroom or to say that they sleep with their mothers.
The fire alarm goes off very frequently, sometimes daily at any time of day of nights. Children are dragged out again, having to negotiate flights of stairs, only to find out it is another false alarm. This causing huge anxiety. Security workers often have no knowledge how to pinpoint the fire alarm location. On 30 March 2021, an exit plan of the building in case of a fire was handed out.
There are ongoing complaints about staff being disrespectful to residents and guests. Guests who are sometimes needed to look after someone who is ill or help with childcare, are often refused entry or there is the complication of an overnight form to be filled in and signed. This is supposed to be our home.
Newham Council! Brimstone House: No place for children