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Social housing, not social cleansing!

An open letter to Newham’s MP Lyn Brown from a mother facing eviction

JOIN US IN ACTION:

Thursday 17 October, Eviction Resistance, Victoria Street Stratford E15

I write this letter to you today as a long standing resident of Newham as of May 1996. Due to a series of events and situations both beyond and within my control I have found myself homeless and as it stands Newham Council has seen it fit to discharge its duty towards me leaving me and my 21 month old son with no alternative place to reside.

As my MP I am writing to you to seek your assistance in asking Newham Council to reverse this decision and make me an offer that is indeed more suitable and affordable to meet the needs of my household.

I said earlier that I am a long-standing resident of Newham. However, I am much more than that. I went to school at Storey Primary School in North Woolwich. I completed my secondary education at Eastlea Community School in Canning Town and discovered my love for learning at Newham Sixth Form College in Plaistow where I completed my A Levels. I would spend my weekends with friends or family window shopping at Stratford Centre or enjoy a show at Theatre Royal Stratford East. I was fortunate enough to perform on stage at the Stratford Circus Arts Centre with my performance group. I even know the best shops to get hair products from in Upton Park.

I list all this not only to show my local connection to Newham but how much Newham is a part of me. Which is why when I became pregnant in 2017 I shelved my plans to save up for my own place and applied to be put on the Home Choice housing register in June of that year. It was not until January 2018, after a long period of silence and several errors on the part of Newham Council I was finally accepted. After the birth of my son I made a homeless application to the council in February on the grounds of overcrowding, the state of my mental health and the unaffordability of private rental sector properties. Newham accepted it’s duty of care towards me and has placed me in emergency accommodation at 10 Victoria Streets since April 2018.

On the 17th of this month the Council made an offer  to me for a private rental property in Leytonstone with a weekly rent of £243.56. The offer described the property as suitable on the grounds that the estimated housing element of Universal Credit I would be entitled to, met the Local Housing Allowance rate; and they deemed that I did not need the support of family and friends because I was unemployed. It also stated that that there were no health and safety concerns with the property to deem it unfit for habitation.

As of 20 September I rejected the offer because as a single parent with Council Tax, bills and the cost of food to think of coupled with several outstanding debts I knew I would not be able to afford the property. I have been unemployed for 4 months and I know that my current state is only temporary. I have been actively seeking work since I was forced to resign from my previous role due to the fact my childcare provider increased their rate and Tax Credits advised they would not cover the difference. I was on maternity leave when I entered 10 Victoria Street. When I informed the Council I would be returning to work in November 2018 my housing benefit entitlement was decreased by 74% with immediate effect leaving me in arrears for a period of time. Despite trying to explain to the Council I could not sustain such a significant reduction as my role prior to my maternity leave had changed and there was a considerable difference in my take-home pay, I was still threatened with the prospect of eviction if I did not pay back the arrears by a certain date.

I ask you now Ms. Brown, if I was barely surviving in an emergency Council property at £190.58 per week and in full time employment, do you honestly believe I would be able to support my household in a PRS property with a monthly rental value of over £1000 either as an unemployed or employed single parent? If the council applied such a drastic reduction in my housing benefit it goes without saying that the same would apply to Universal Credit the moment I begin working again. The only difference would be the that I would owe a private sector landlord a vast amount of rent in arrears.

I also rejected the offer as the property did not allow me to meet health and safety obligations toward my son. As I mentioned previously my son is 21 months old. If the Council had conducted a proper suitability assessment I do not see how they found it reasonable that the bedroom that would have been allocated to my son was situated in an isolated location at the back at the flat. In addition, both bedrooms were separated by a kitchen between them. If I had been seeking a property on private sector how as parent of a young could I even entertain the idea of having such a potentially hazardous room serve as the main thoroughfare for the entire home? It leaves me with no other choice to conclude that this property was offered to me with the full knowledge I would not be able to afford it and that the Council was negligent in conducting a suitability assessment safe within the knowledge that I would reject it. As a consequence of that rejection the Council has now discharged its duty of care towards me and my son.

I have been working with a local campaign group, Focus E15 who have supported me in pursuing my case with Newham Council.  I have had several media interviews, spoken at a deputation with Newham councillors and have attended a meeting with Newham Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, in which she advised that all homeless applicants had a right to reject an offer from the Council. Clearly she failed to highlight that this right came with the caveat that we would be forced to leave our temporary residence and duty would be discharged. I have viewed your voting record and have noted that you have voted in favour for equality and human rights legislation. I have watched clips from Labour’s recent party conference where the Shadow Chancellor described you as ‘the conscience’ of the party. I appeal now to that conscience and to your record of siding with changes for social  justice to use your position to overturn Newham Council’s decision against me.

I also write as a resident of Newham who has seen the changes that have come and taken shape within my community, accelerated by the advent of the 2012 Olympics. I know of people who were offered vast sums to leave their properties to build the site and others who were simply kicked out to accommodate a show built on the suffering of local people.

As a voice for social justice I am sure you are aware of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into the progress the United Kingdom has been making in implementing into law rights of citizens as outlined by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). In particular the government’s duty to implements the duty on public authorities to take account of the impact of their decisions on socio-economic inequalities under Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010 in England and Wales. With it’s history of forcing intentional homelessness on struggling residents, sending vulnerable applicants to locales hundreds of miles from their social connections and leaving them in insecure, unsafe and unsuitable accommodation it if fair to say Newham Council has actively discriminated against residents solely based on their socio-economic background and have enacted unfair judgements as a result.

Now more than ever is it the time Ms. Brown to use your parliamentary position to speak up about the injustices that residents in your constituency are going through in trying to secure a decent home for their family.

Newham has been a Labour-run council since 1964.
The housing crisis cannot solely be placed on the financial crash, austerity, a Conservative government or even Brexit. Labour councillors could have taken steps to mitigate against the rising number of homeless applications or worked with other labour-run councils in coming up with solutions or reducing the waiting list figures we have in Newham today. In stating this I implore you to start this process of communication between councils and alleviate the plight of your constituents. It is my sincere hope that this letter has spoken to the heart and conscious of it’s recipient and you will endeavour to take action.

From a mother and child facing imminent eviction.

Stand with Focus E15 campaign and families directly affected by this Labour council’s savage housing decisions. Newham residents are having their lives blighted by social cleansing, homelessness and the threat of eviction. 

JOIN US IN ACTION, Eviction Resistance

Thursday 17 October, Victoria Street, Stratford E15.

The word on the street

We have recently been told of another family Newham council has washed its hands of,a single mother and her teenage daughter. They have lived in Nehwam their entire lives, and spent 13 years bidding for housing. This family had the right of succession to a council home inhumanely taken away from them(do council workers get a kick out of doing this we have to wonder?) and the family were evicted from temporary housing. They were offered a place in Basildon but this was not suitable and when they could not leave all their local connections behind the council labelled them as intentionally homeless for refusing this inappropriate offer. The council then discharged their duty to house this family. Now this mother and teenage daughter are homeless and forced to sofa-surf. 

And it goes on:

Newham Council continue their destruction of young lives with yet another example of a mother and young child socially cleansed and struggling.
After no longer being able to live with family due to overcrowding, they were housed in temporary accommodation out of the borough in Chadwell Heath. They were told that it was a only for a month, but it turned out to be six. Infested with bed mites, it was unsanitary and in bad condition. Then Newham council said there was a place in Southend. Terrified of being made homeless as the council worker kept threatening if she refused it, this young mother felt she had no choice but to say yes. This meant being miles and hours from her family and support networks, from her child’s grandmother and from her university in Stratford. The council housing officer said that one and a half hour travel was acceptable. No mention of the prohibitive cost.
The flat in Southend was in major disrepair, electrical appliances not working, boiler out of action, no storage space. No-one from Newham council had seen it. She put in for a review, the council housing officer just rang her up with patronising tips on how to address the issues she had raised. This is not a review.
The predictable happened, this mother got depressed and felt isolated and alone. Her mental and physical health was affected, she was in debt due to the expense of travel, she is finding it much harder to keep going with her studies and she feels her child has no stability. She got to the point of wanting to hand in her keys. Sofa surfing and overcrowding her only alternative.

Together we are stronger. 

We demand that Newham Labour council stop threats of homelessness, stop social cleansing, stop blighting the lives of our next generation, and immediately refurbish and repopulate the empty council housing stock.
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The much loved Ella Bradbury demanding housing for all with Focus E15 campaign

Viva Ella Bradbury – our comrade and friend.

Our dear friend and comrade Ella Bradbury (known more widely as Ellie), died on Friday 6 September at the age of 29 in Mexico City. This deeply sad news is a great shock and immense loss to Focus E15 campaigners. We send our love and condolences to Ella’s parents, her three brothers and to her wider family and friends, and welcome anyone at any point to our weekly Saturday street stall 12-2pm on Stratford Broadway to remember Ella together.

Ella first made contact with Focus E15 campaign in May 2015 when she was studying for her Masters in International Politics and Human Rights at City University in London. She was researching the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo from Buenos Aires in Argentina, a group of mothers that stood up to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship under which 30,000 people disappeared. These women refused to give up their fight to establish the truth about what had happened to their ‘disappeared’ children, who had been taken by force by the military and brutally murdered for being leftists. Ella was interested in exploring the links between the construction of motherhood, resistance and the fight against punitive governments by way of a comparative study between the group of mothers from Argentina and the Focus E15 mothers in London. After writing a warm and enthusiastic introduction about her research, Ella came along to meet the campaign at the street stall.

Ella’s integrity was immediately apparent and she gained the trust of campaigners and began the task of undertaking first hand research through the use of informal interviews, participant observation and by regularly attending street stalls, actions and meetings. She ensured that those at the heart of her research were always treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Her final MA, for which she won the prize for the best dissertation on her course, was entitled Mothers that Misbehave: An anarchist approach to explore the significance of ‘motherhood’ in two social movements; the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and the Focus E15 Mothers.

Ella’s dissertation explores two different struggles, at different times, in different continents and she highlights some similarities, for example unpolitical actors turning into political actors, initial campaign demands that were neither contentious nor extreme but relate to basic human rights, the lack of appropriate response from those in authority, the regular presence on the streets, the growth and widening of the struggle, the fight against negative stereotypes about motherhood and women, and the growing understanding that a change of government or elected leaders of this current system may not provide solutions and can bring disappointment.

After she finished her research Ella took the principled decision to stay fighting with the campaign. Her commitment and passion led to her to being asked to join the campaign’s organising body where she took a lead role in working with those at the forefront of the housing crisis, supporting mothers who had been sent out of London to Welwyn Garden City. She took part in several key actions against corruption in Newham council and stood against the racist media stereotyping of blaming migrants for the housing crisis. Ella also dedicated time to the less glamorous tasks of campaigning, recognising that submitting funding applications, answering emails, sorting out finance were also important to keeping a campaign going. Ella was centrally involved in fundraising which ensured the campaign could develop an office base in East London – and Sylvia’s Corner is still going strong.

Ella used her warmth, friendliness and sense of fun to bond with children and young people. She recognised that if mothers were to be consistently involved with political work then childcare had to be seen as a political necessity. She pushed the idea of the campaign having an ‘inclusivity fund’ so that no one struggling due to a lack of money was turned away from campaigning.

Unbeknownst to herself, Ella Bradbury showed us all the meaning of the word comrade in a myriad of ways. She was disciplined, accountable, collective and reliable, and together we shared enthusiasm and fun in the serious struggle for a more just society. She always did what she said she would do, was always where she said she would be, attended meetings and actions, helped organise and educate, and Ella demonstrated to everyone the strength of her convictions which inspired others to emulate her.

Ella’s determination and principled spirit will be called upon time and time again and will be with us in every significant struggle and fight for justice that lies ahead. We raise our voices to say – Long live Ella! Viva Ella! A true friend, comrade and warrior woman.

Below is a slide show of pictures of Ella, many of which show her involvement with the campaign and a personal note from our campaigner Jasmin.

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A personal note from Jasmin to Ella

Ella

You fought the hard fight and gave everything you had whilst beaming with beauty and a smile so benevolent.

You cared with every bone in you body, every word word you spoke and breath you took.

You made me laugh, held me as I cried the love from your presence, made it all OK.

Your laugh was absolutely contagious!

Our laughs together sounded like the kinda noises you would expect to hear from a zoo -we would laugh to the point of wetting ourselves.

I loved dancing with you whether it be a nice bit of salsa or the regular cha cha slide.

Hearing you speak was so inspirational, your amazing ability to capture people’s attention and show your compassionate ways and informing people with the utmost intelligence that you had.

Your fight against injustice was so powerful, it has left an impact forever and I promise you we will fucking go on!

You were a misbehaving rebellion, a fighter.

Ella you were and are so loved, more loved than you could ever see and since losing you my admiration only grows stronger. I’ve seen how many lives you have touched.

And how loved you are

You are an absolute hero
A comrade
A friend
Family
You are Ella
I truly will
Love you
Forever.

Plan developed by Carpenters residents hangs in the balance- will the estate be saved?

Since its inception in 2013, Focus E15 campaign has spoken out time and time again on various platforms against the 100s of empty homes laid to waste on Carpenters Estate. As a campaign we agree with the Greater Carpenter’s Neighbourhood Forum’s (GCNF) aim to save the Carpenters Estate for perpetuity as public housing for the people of Newham. There is a huge demand in Newham for decent long term accommodation and low cost rents and we understand by spending time talking to local people on a weekly basis on our street stall that housing insecurity is linked to acute mental health distress. Such pressing social needs were in part addressed by the building of Carpenter’s Estate in 1967 and the original impetus for building this much needed council estate must now be examined again as the GCNF have submitted a new vision for the estate to the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), whom due to a legacy from the Olympics still insist of having planning authority over this council estate in Stratford.
It is a grave injustice to residents of the estate and the wider community that Newham Labour Council decanted council residents, shunned their responsibilities to the community and boarded up perfectly decent homes as a spiraling national housing crisis unfolded. The community on the estate and beyond deserves justice after years of shameful and deliberate neglect and mismanagement by the Council.
Focus E15 campaign therefore supports the GCNF’s Neighborhood plan to save the estate and believes that housing refurbishment, adding community facilities and protecting existing council homes from demolition by refurbishment is vital in a borough which has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the country and where one in 25 people do not have a permanent home. It is frankly abhorrent for the London Legacy Development Corporation and Newham Council to consider demolition or to sell off to a large property developer, or engage in a variant number of deals and schemes in order to reduce the number of council tenancies by dressing up the amount of ‘homes for social rent’.
The high cost of housing in the insecure private rented sector is leading to destitution. It is clear that the adoption of the GCNF’s neighbourhood plan is the most cost effective way to preserve the existing community on Carpenter’s Estate rather than spend millions of pounds destroying it and it is also the clearest way to uphold environmental responsibilities by avoiding the waste and pollution caused by demolition. By preserving and maintaining the existing estate the rights of leaseholders and freeholders will also be guaranteed.
Focus E15 campaign are currently campaigning with residents in Stratford living in a local hostel called Brimstone House many of whom need to be rehoused in long term and secure housing like that on Carpenters Estate so that they can stay connected to the community and their support networks and escape from the proven unsafe and dehumanising conditions that they are currently enduring.
Focus E15 campaign therefore urges Newham council to support the neighbourhood plan (so far the Council has refused to do so) and for the London Legacy Development Corporation to adopt the plan without delay and to put an end to over a decade of uncertainty for residents on the estate and to give the people of Newham a chance to live in safe and secure housing instead of being left to rot in inadequate temporary accommodation for years on end.
To show your support for community-led housing, expanded green infrastructure, resisting demolition of decent homes and the displacement of social housing communities, please take a minute to participate in the Greater Carpenters Neighbourhood Plan consultation.

UPDATE* The consultation has now been extended to Friday 6 September, 5pm 2019.
Below is the link to the LLDC’s webpage for the consultation. Click on the email address below to give your opinion, or follow the link to the Neighbourhood Plan and the two accompanying documents (the Basic Conditions Statement and the Consultation Statement). The link to the consultation is:

Stranded in Southend: expectant mother told by Newham Council that she hasn’t been moved far enough away yet

‘If anything happens to me, it’s on Newham (council). I’ve told you my situation!’

A mother of two young children with a third on the way, shook the walls of Stratford Town Hall last Monday evening as she addressed the full Cabinet meeting of Newham Council and outlined her increasingly dangerous and unmanageable housing situation. She is due to give birth in little over a month.

Newham council left this expectant mother and her children stranded and isolated when they forced the family to move from temporary accommodation in Newham in Brimstone House to Southend on Sea by threatening her with ‘intentional homelessness’ if she did not accept an offer of accommodation out of London. She states:

‘’I cannot describe this as a choice, as a mother cannot choose to make their children ‘intentionally homeless’. So I was forced to accept this offer and have been in Southend-on-Sea since July 2018.”

She further explains that:

“The flat I am in is on the second floor and the building has no lift. I have to climb 30 stairs with my two young children, as well as my shopping and with my double buggy, in an advanced stage of pregnancy. I regularly injure myself because of this, and I fear that something worse could happen. I feel scared to leave my children in my flat (when I leave to go get my shopping & buggy from downstairs) as they are very young.  This will become even more difficult after the birth of my 3rd child.

I have absolutely no support networks in Southend-on-Sea, and when I go into labour I worry that I have nobody who can stay at home with my young children. All my support networks are in Newham where I lived for 6 years.’’

After trying to contact Newham Council and getting little response, she reached out to Focus E15 Campaign as an ex-resident of Brimstone House and joined forces with current Brimstone House residents who have just submitted a legal complaint to Newham Council about the awful living conditions in the hostel.

However, a worrying development is that following her speech at the cabinet meeting, she was contacted by a housing officer in Newham the next day, and told that ‘she would have to be moved even further than Southend to find affordable housing’. This is threatening and abhorrent.

We call on the Mayor and the Council to immediately move this mother and her children back to Newham. She is asking for her right to be housed in her community for the long term benefit of her children.  A pregnant mother should not be left to give birth alone or be cast out.  She needs to be back in her community so that she can get the support she needs at this vulnerable time in her life just before she goes into labour. The issues of class, race and gender are present in this case and Newham have left her in a very precarious situation far away from all those she knows and trusts.

Focus E15 Campaign says:

Newham council bring this mother and her children back home to Newham!

Stop making women and children isolated, depressed and afraid.

Keep our communities together!

Social housing, not social cleansing!

Join us on the street stall this Saturday from 12-2pm outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford, London E15.

Legal complaint served -this could go to the high court say Public Interest Law Centre

Brimstone house residents in Newham are getting organised. They  have had enough of living in ‘long term temporary’ accommodation. 19 residents agreed to be interviewed  by the Public Interest Law centre who then submitted a legal complaint to the council with support from Focus E15 campaign. Listen to one amazing resident Egwolo on this report about conditions at the hostel by BBC local news.

 Join us to discuss all the latest development with the complaint, now issued to every councillor in Newham at the next campaign meeting on Saturday 3 August from 2.30pm-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Rd, E15 4DN.

What was said to the Mayor of Newham last Monday night…

Focus E15 Campaign is posting some of the powerful speeches that were given as part of the deputation to the full Newham council meeting on 15 July 2019. We salute all the residents from Brimstone house who stood together and spoke truth to power at Stratford Town Hall earlier this week, (a large formal venue and a meeting of the full council is an intimidating place to speak).

EGWOLO

Dear Madame Mayor, we the current and former residents of Brimstone House have submitted a legal complaint detailing the appalling and unstable conditions of our accommodation. You have heard the testimonies of how the cramp, damp and inadequate ventilation has been a plague on the daily living of Brimstone’s residents. You have just listened to the adverse social and psychological impact such conditions are having on the children of Brimstone. You will also no doubt be aware of Focus E15’s efforts in campaigning for the repopulation of the otherwise habitable Carpenter’s Estate.

Madame Mayor we are here today not only as your constituents, but as mothers, fathers, and residents of a borough that has shaped our lives, to ask that you actively and swiftly take action to rectify the injustice that has been mete on Brimstone’s residents, and so many other families like ours throughout the borough. The Newham Council website talks about building a resilient community. Resilience is defined as the ability to return to the original form or readily recover. As an individual who has grown up in Newham I have seen a lot of changes, but none more so than when the 2012 Olympics announcement was made. In terms of housing, whole communities were shipped out of their homes to accommodate the Olympics. If the original inhabitants of a community are not there to enjoy the benefits of the so called legacy that the Olympics was meant to bring, how can Newham claim to have successfully left a legacy or built a resilient community?

In terms of personal resilience Newham talks about instilling in individuals the ability to respond to challenges and have good relationships. Yet there is an evident lack of either attributes when residents deal with council employees. When residents assert basic rights they are met with hostility, intimidation and are reminded that they are a blight on the council resources so any help given should be received with open arms and undying gratitude. Your council’s website, asserts that ‘every child matters’ and the council is ensuring that access to educational attainment is provided. I put it to you, Madame Mayor, that education begins at home. How can a child learn the social skills they need to interact with friends outside of school of they feel uncomfortable to invite them to their homes? How can children learn about personal boundaries if there are no doors to provide privacy to complete homework or escape family life? Would you, growing up with 3 brothers, have found the confidence to invite friends home if you knew they were coming to an open plan studio apartment with beds for settees?

Our purpose here is not recant past grievances with the council but to plead with all council members that our complaint isn’t pushed into the long-grass. Brimstone House residents have spent months, and years in our current situation and to ask us to wait patiently while another 228 homes are being built goes beyond the resilience required of any individual. The flats and homes standing empty on Carpenter’s Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished. You and your fellow councillors have the power to change that and have tangible positive affect on the lives of your constituents at Brimstone House. Please enact our demands as listed in the legal complaint with immediate effect.

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MARSHA

My name is Marsha and I am a resident at Brimstone House where I have been living for the past two years with my daughter. I am here today as one of the group of residents, part of this deputation to highlight the complaint compiled by us residents, PILC and Focus E15 campaign. We are representing BH residents, we are a collective of people standing up for our housing rights. The length of stay in BH is absolutely unaccceptable. The conditions at BH are unacceptable. The way we are treated is unacceptable. The place is damp, cramped, overcrowded and unhealthy.
Our children’s physical health and development is being deeply affected.
Our own mental health is suffering. We feel there a bullying and intimidating culture that we have been made a part of. I am speaking for myself and all the other residents of Brimstone House here today, that we are absolutely fed up with hearing how many people are on the housing waiting list. We know that there are empty council homes locally and around the borough. We see the majority of new homes built that are out of our reach. Where does this leave us as residents of Newham?

As we all know, having a decent home is the core to our lives. Having structure, having routines improves stability and maintains good health. We as residents of Brimstone House don’t have that, our children don’t have that. We live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you now, many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families. How do we cope as parents seeing our children being traumatised by the stress that we have to live through and being powerless to even help ourselves. This is not what Newham stands for.

ROMESA (age 12)
(written in note form)
Good evening ladies and gentlemen.
In my opinion, no one pays attention to kids who are young. The lack of freedom we have feels like being captured in a cage with an unbreakable lock. At the end of of the day, we are all the same and we have the same hearts. We don’t feel safe. How would you like it if you were in our situation? How would you like it if we did not listen to your voice and left you alone surrounded by the darkness of Brimestone House?

It is not only us, there are many more lives here, for example, disabled people, pregnant people, single parents. Small children have no space to crawl around when they are in their early stages of learning. Instead of making big flats in other buildings, allow our powerless hearts to be free. If you really are the council, help us all to gain freedom. You are the one with the power, not us.
Thank you for listening.

The very next day
Residents from Brimstone house are being called in for suitability assessments by the council and are being told that they have to accept their fate in the expensive private rented sector otherwise they are making themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ meaning that the council will discharge their duty. As you can see from the issues outlined above by residents -the fight for decent secure housing is urgent. The council must open up the boarded up flats on Carpenters Estate and all other empty properties in the borough. We will be demonstrating for the right to housing in Newham at our regular street stall on Saturday 20 July outside Wilko’s from 12-2pm. Join us to plan the next actions with Brimstone House residents on the street stall.

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Artwork and banner by Andrew Cooper

Newham residents’ complaint to Mayor at full council meeting

The deputation to the Council of Newham…

Residents of Brimstone House formed a powerful woman led deputation to the Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and the full Labour council meeting at Stratford Town Hall on Monday 15 July. The deputation spoke about their submission of a legal complaint, compiled with the Public Interest Law Centre supported by Focus E15 campaign, regarding the appalling conditions of the temporary and emergency accommodation in the Newham Council-owned building in Victoria Street, Brimstone House.

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The deputation by Brimstone House residents was organised after a year of meetings with Newham Council which has seen little change for the majority of the residents.

One Focus E15 campaigner Hannah described what happened during the deputation: “the powerful and eloquent words of mothers, pregnant women and teenagers sent shivers down the spine of even the most hardened. This is no way to treat people, lives of adults and children are being destroyed physically and mentally by the stress of living in temporary accommodation”.  One resident from Brimstone House Marsha explained “we live in constant worry about when we are going to be rehoused or even where we are going to live. As you know many of us have been threatened and labelled intentionally homeless because we refused to be ripped away from our community and our families’. Another resident, Egwolo said ‘The homes standing empty on the Carpenters Estate are a testament to the legacy that you will leave behind Madame Mayor, one that will not paint you in a good light should nothing be done or they are demolished.’ 

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Supporters of the London Black Women’s Project, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaigners walk out of the council chamber and chant together ‘deeds not words!’

Over fifty women supporting the London Black Women’s Project protesting at the vital cuts in services to women in the borough were also present at the council meeting. Everyone stood united, supporting one another as the issues of council cuts to services and housing are linked. The frustration at the lack of action ended with a walk out from the council chamber and chants of “Deeds Not Words” rang out throughout the building. A lively demonstration took place outside in the streets afterwards, the traffic was briefly stopped with banners, placards and more chanting.

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Legal Complaint is served
The compliant from Brimstone House residents has been sent to every member of Newham Council. It calls for immediate action to remedy unsuitable housing conditions and to stop the seemingly limitless time that people languish in inappropriate accommodation, many with young children. Residents of Brimstone House are told they will stay for 3-6 months, however the average length of stay is 1.5 years.

The legal complaint is comprised of in-depth witness statements from 19 residents, an architectural report on the suitability of the building and recommendations from residents and Focus E15 Housing Campaign on progressive housing policies in the borough. This complaint also makes public findings from recent Freedom of Information Request to Newham Council on key housing facts such as the average waiting time to access a 4 bedroom property being 9 years and 11 months and that only 164 social houses had been built in the two years preceding the Freedom of Information Request (April 2018).

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Banner by Andrew Cooper on the left details words by Brimstone House residents such as feeling scared social services will remove children from families if they have long term housing difficulties.

The legal complaint also notes the fact that the majority of the complainants living in temporary accommodation are from BAME backgrounds and demands equality for all. The complaint calls on the Newham Council to open up the 400+ boarded up homes on Carpenters Estate and to consider setting a protest budget in order to highlight the housing emergency that is still unfolding. Residents will be meeting with the Mayor to discuss their concerns in the next few weeks.

Quotes from the complaint, residents speak out:

“Living in Brimstone Hostel feels like a prison because we cannot go out or leave for too long, even for holidays. I do not feel free as the office monitors when we enter or leave Brimstone House.’’

“There is not enough space for all of us, not even for a cot for my three-week old daughter. Instead I have to fold a travel cot every night….my health visitor says it is not appropriate.”

“There is not enough room in the flat to manoeuvre my son’s wheelchair.’’

“The hygiene situation in Brimstone House is really bad… I am very concerned about my daughter’s health of living there. The flat is really run down, shabby and infested with mice.”

For more information, interviews or access to the legal complaint document, please contact: focuse15london@gmail.com

Join us on our street stall outside Wilko’s on the Broadway every Saturday from
12-2pm.
Together we are stronger!

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What is capitalism and where is it taking us?

Karl Marx’s political work has a lot to offer us in terms of making sense of the world we live in today -a system where people are not housed when there is housing and not fed when there is food, in short where many people’s basic needs are not being met.

Karl Marx’s ideas will be explored over the next 3 monthly campaign meetings in short interactive sessions led by the artist Andrew Cooper and campaigner Eric Ogbogbo. The first session, The Bones of Capitalism, is on Saturday July 6th. Come and listen to this special series of accessible presentations which have been designed as an introduction to Karl Marx’s Capital, using drawings to help illustrate all the big ideas.

Session 1
-The Bones of Capitalism
What makes value? What are wages?
What is the source of capitalist profits?

Session 2
-Abundance and Waste
Why with increasing technological advances are so many people’s basic needs not being met like with housing and food? Why are so many people’s working lives getting longer and conditions worsening? Why will there always be unemployment in capitalism and people living in difficult circumstances.

Session 3
-Capitalism and Crisis
Why is capitalism unstable and what does it mean when we say capitalism is in crisis?
What is imperialism and why is there so much war? Why is the environment being destroyed?

Learning from the ideas of Karl Marx provides us with solid reasons why we must organise and why we should not accept the system is just ‘the way it is’. This learning can help us in our task of building a strong movement for housing today.

Come to the Focus E15 Campaign meeting to discuss session 1 and all the latest campaign developments. Saturday July 6 at 2.30pm Sylvia’s Corner 97 Aldworth Rd E15 4DN.

Knowledge is power! Let us work together to increase our collective agency and make plans for forthcoming actions. Another world is possible.

Andrew Cooper is an artist specialising in producing drawings, banners and carvings which are used in campaigns for social justice such as Focus E15. More info about this particular work can be found here:
THE MARX SHOW

Eric Ogbogbo has been actively involved in campaigns for social justice and has written about imperialism. Here is a video of an interview whilst on a housing stall-

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One year in office for Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz -what next?

Focus E15 campaign and Brimstone House residents made their presence felt at the cabinet meeting on Tuesday 7 May, to mark one year since the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz came to power and to continue to hold Newham Labour council to account for its housing policies and the high rate of people living in temporary accommodation in the borough and also to witness what our local elected representative are saying.

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Artwork by Andrew Cooper

During the cabinet meeting the Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz commentated that the council ‘will support the delivery of the promises I made to you when I was elected last May’. She hailed her improved transparency and accountability of involving residents in decision-making through citizen assemblies.

However anyone familiar with the politics of Newham understands that Rokhsana Fiaz can only look good following Robin Wales, the former Mayor of Newham. It was the much disliked Robin Wales who was scarred by the Lender Option Borrower Option (LOBO) loans scandal: LOBO loans are long term loans, taken out over 40-70 years. They make money for the banks due to high levels of interest being paid by local councils. Newham took out almost £580m of these risky loans. Rokhsana Fiaz has succeeded in terminating the Royal Bank of Scotland LOBO loans which will save the council £143m.

However, the mayors claims at the cabinet meeting of ‘addressing poverty, tackling inequality and sharing economic prosperity’ ring hollow with many residents that we meet on the streets, including those living in Brimstone House. Brimstone House was formerly the Focus E15 young people’s hostel, now, bought by the council, it is used as temporary and emergency accommodation. Whole families are shoved into cramped spaces for unspecified lengths of time. Residents have joined forces with Focus E15 campaign to demand that they are housed, locally, permanently and decently.

During the cabinet meeting Focus E15 campaigners also highlighted the fate of Carpenters Estate. The campaign remains in contact with those evicted from or still living in the deliberately run down estate. Former residents were bullied out of their homes, they were lied to when they were told they would be able to return, and they still suffer the outrageous indignity of seeing their own fantastic flats laying empty  over a decade later.

As Newham council begins to manoeuvre its way around the existing residents living on the estate it has prepared the ground by releasing an estimate of costs involved in demolition. This document states that full refurbishment of the tower block would cost £70m versus the cost of demolition of all the 3 tower blocks at £17m. This contradicts the painstaking work that Architects for Social Housing has carried out and which demonstrates for those who care to look, that refurbishment is always the cheaper and more environmentally conscious option.

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Document handed to Carpenters Residents at a residents meeting run by the council

The council have also stated they are creating a new residents group for the estate. At the same time The Great Carpenter Neighbourhood Forum who have developed an extensive and well thought out plan for the estate  which does not involve demolition continues to be completely ignored by Newham Council who refuse to meet with them. The forum have been releasing ever more urgent tweets:

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Newham made a successful bid to the Building Council Homes for Londoners programme and received £107m. A further £515m has been allocated by the council towards housing. Rokhsana Fiaz says they will ensure 50% of all homes built are ‘genuinely affordable’. She says ‘tackling the housing crisis has been my priority since I took office’ and she has been ‘delighted to announce that I have exceeded the housing delivery targets I set for my first year in office’ – at least 100 new social homes in the first year and over 1,000 over the four year term. This is woefully inadequate and embarrassing. 1 in 24 people are homeless in Newham, empty homes are in evidence around the borough and Newham has the longest housing waiting list in London. There are over 400 council homes on Carpenters Estate that are still boarded after Rokhsana Fiaz has been in office for a year.

The Lottery of Housing

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Some people in Brimstone House have been rehoused in good quality local housing, some families offered appalling places that are not fit for habitation, some offered places repainted and carpeted and all kitchen items, some offered places with bare concrete floors and no cooker or fridge, some are still languishing in Brimstone House for years, some are still being sent out of London, and those who refuse what the council deem to be suitable still face being labelled intentionally homeless with the council removing their duty to provide housing.

Read Kate Belgrave’s blogpost and follow the links to understand further how brutal the housing situation is and how menacing, threatening and humiliating the current system can be.

The campaign is determined to keep on raising the issues of Brimstone House and Carpenters Estate. Join us on Saturday on The Broadway, Stratford E15 from 12pm and come to Focus E15 campaign meeting on Saturday June 1st 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, London E15 4DN where the discussion will be on all the above issues as well as learning about international housing solidarity, with Focus E15 campaigners just back from Palestine and comrades from the Revolutionary Communist Group giving eye witness accounts from their recent solidarity brigade to Cuba.