Monthly Archives: October 2014

Article in Occupied Times

The Focus E15 campaign was established to challenge Newham Council’s policies of expelling the poor and vulnerable of London to towns and cities hundreds of miles away. The Labour-run council claim that there is no housing in Newham. This is a lie. Thousands of properties lie empty and boarded up in this borough of east London. The campaign began in September 2013 after Newham Council withdrew funding from the Focus E15 young people’s hostel and its mother and baby unit. East Thames Housing Association initially threatened to evict the young mothers and have since extended this threat to some of the single residents as well. See the whole article here.

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New article in the New Left Project out now

Local Heroes: Focus E15 Mothers and the East London Suffragettes

by Sarah Jackson

The women of Focus E15 are the latest chapter in a long story of East End women standing up for their rights, families, homes and communities against sexism and class prejudice.

First published: 28 October, 2014 | Category: Activism, Gender equality, Housing

“The shooting of pop-guns, the throwing of bags of flour, blue powder and more solid missiles began the fray. The barrier between the public and the Councillors was broken down by a rush of women. The Councillors engaged in hand-to-hand conflict to force them back. Whilst missiles still fell from the gallery, wild women dashed round the room, overturning ink-pots and tearing agenda papers, seizing the Councillors’ chairs as weapons of defence… The police were sent for, but refused to enter the building.” [1]

This meeting of Poplar Council in 1914 was so unusually exciting that it even made it into the New York Times. The reason for the fracas was the Council’s decision to ban the East London Federation of the Suffragettes from using public halls for their meetings. The account above was written by their leader, Sylvia Pankhurst. She goes on to record that the meeting was briefly adjourned, and, when it resumed, the council voted to exclude the public from council meetings for three months.

Over the last ten months I’ve had one foot in 2014 and the other in 1914. While researching and writing a book about the East London Federation of the Suffragettes (ELFS) I have been looking on with awe and admiration as the Focus E15 campaign has gone from strength to strength. After watching a video of a rather more peaceful Focus E15 protest at an open meeting of Newham Council in February, I began to see some parallels between the groups. In Newham the protestors, including journalist Kate Belgrave, were barred from attending the supposedly public meeting, and then the Councillors walked out in response to the protest.

Read the rest of the article here

Statement by Jasmin and Sam, Focus E15 campaign

Focus E15 campaign is a campaign group concentrating on housing and supporting people affected by the harsh cuts.

We would like to follow up on the previous statement that was broadcast to supporters regarding certain individuals who have attended events of the campaign, and give some reassurance as to what we are about and what our campaign concentrates on.

In particular we would like clarify that the previous statement did not speak on behalf of the whole campaign and that Focus E15 campaign is open to men and women and all support is welcome and appreciated.

We understand that domestic violence is a serious problem and want to be clear that that we are against all forms of abuse and violence and understand that it is a very sensitive matter. The campaign will not tolerate any form of discrimination.

We do not want any supporter of the campaign to feel uncomfortable. We apologise for any concern or upset that has been caused and want to make it clear that we do not think that it is right to target individuals. It is not the place of Focus E15 campaign to judge or discuss specific people’s alleged actions.

Focus E15 campaign is an active campaign engaging with the community and helping to empower people to have their voice heard.

Once again we thank everybody for all the support for the campaign and will continue the battle for everybody’s basic human rights and equality.

After the occupation: just the beginning (of the end of the housing crisis)

Newham have in effect shut down the vibrant social hub we created at the E15 Open House. Newham may not be interested in the free music, childrens’ cookery lessons, story telling and play room; they may not be interested in the free debt advice. They may not be in interested in the warmth, solidarity and camaraderie on which the centre was built and which it has produced.

They may not be interested, but thousands of people are. Hundreds of people came through our doors, from people evicted from the Carpenter’s estate to the street homeless, from feminists to students, parents, comedians, the unemployed and the overworked. This is not the end, but the beginning of the movement for housing justice.

Robin Wales and Newham Council continue to tell mistruths and to mislead the public about the reality of the Carpenter’s Estate. He has blamed the resident’s organization for refusing to repopulate the houses. The truth is that he wants to use a private organization to put people in in the short term. The truth is that he wants to sell the land to a developer and that’s why they don’t want long term tenants with rights living there. The residents organization want long term tenants with secure contracts, run and managed by the residents, not by a third party. Third party involvement is also often the route to full sale to a private landlord, such as has happened on the New Era estate in Hoxton.

Newham Council have already boarded up these homes again, just one day after the end of the occupation. We will be watching and will continue to demand that 80-86 Doran Walk and all of the homes on the Carpenter’s Estate are immediately made available as housing. But, this is is not only about Newham. It is about ongoing housing injustice, in which people who live and work in London cannot afford to stay here or are threatened with removal while global elites park their money, tax free in existing properties and those being built.

We call on the movement that we have been part of through our year long struggle and 10 day occupation to continue to demand housing justice and council housing and to keep building the solidarity and the movement that has arisen.

The solution to the ‘housing crisis’ – which is not a crisis, but unfairly distributed housing is the provision of more social housing, paid for by high taxes on the super rich.

Politicians claim there are no easy answers. We say there are easy answers, we are presenting them to you today. End evictions, open up the Carpenter’s estate and every single boarded up council home; tax the properties which are nothing more than tax havens for the rich and which lie empty, while others sleep on the streets.

This experience has shown us that there is a broad based movement for housing in London. We will continue fighting displacement and evictions and for secure, council housing through direct action, mobilisation and legal means. See you on the streets, in the courtrooms and in our future occupations.

This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis.

Focus E15 campaign reply to Robin Wales, Comment is Free, The Guardian, 6 October 2014

The Focus E15 campaign’s Open House social centre on the Carpenters Estate showed that behind the sitex boards lie flats in fine condition ready for occupants. This is the victory, exposing Labour Mayor Robin Wales’s lies that there is no local affordable housing, and Newham Labour council’s policy of evicting people out of London.

Robin Wales’s apology to the Focus E15 families on behalf of the council and their landlord East Thames Housing Association (The Guardian, Comment is Free, 6 October) is not an apology. It is a pathetic attempt to use the support the Open House has had to shift the blame onto factors such as the housing crisis and the Tory government. How outrageous that Robin Wales should say that ‘the impact of moving families away from schools, family networks and their communities is devastating’ when that is exactly what was the catalyst for the campaign in 2013, in Newham, overseen by Robin Wales himself, when young single mothers from the Focus E15 foyer mother and baby unit were being offered accommodation in Manchester, Hastings and Birmingham. This is social cleansing and it is still going on under Robin Wales’s watch.

Wales says that the Conservatives lack of housing supply, benefit cuts and spiralling rents are the problem, but what is Labour promising? In 2008, Labour restricted housing benefit for those renting private accommodation to the 50% point of local market rents, Labour has made no promise to restore that cut. In September 2013, Labour said it would scrap the bedroom tax, but Labour councils continue to impose the tax on social housing tenants despite Robin Wales talking of ‘Conservative government’s barbaric benefit bashing’. Robin Wales was at the last MIPIM property fair in Cannes and will be represented this month at Olympia as MIPIM comes to London – hundreds of property developers, financiers and politicians doing deals while working class people face benefit cap, bedroom tax, arrears, evictions and social cleansing.

Over the last year, Robin Wales and his council have shown nothing short of contempt for the Focus E15 mothers. That he feels the need to publish any sort of apology may be related to the fact that his reputation is about to be further sullied… Wales is under investigation by the Newham Standards Committee which has found that his behaviour towards the Focus E15 campaign in a Newham Park in July showed a potential breach of code of conduct.

The demands of the Focus E15 campaign are decent long term affordable housing for all, the end to social cleansing and an immediate repopulation of the Carpenters Estate, London E15. Robin Wales has been pressured to promise to ‘make up to 40 of those homes available for homeless families’, the campaign believes there are over 400 such empty properties. We must hold him to account and ensure that these new tenancies are long term and secure.