Category Archives: Carpenters Estate

Who the heck benefits from housing redevelopment?

Thank you to Piero Corcillo for this guest blog post based on his research on the housing developments that were built on land cleared for the hosting of the Olympic games in 2012. Piero kindly spoke about this research to a public meeting to Focus E15 campaigners at the end of last year. The knowledge that we gained from the facts in his talk has further empowered us and shows that the fight for the Carpenters Estate to be even more urgent.

Social Mixing and the London East Village: Exclusion, Habitus and Belonging in a Post-Olympics Neighbourhood

Piero Corcillo

This research is based on fieldwork conducted in the London 2012 Athletes’ Village – now East Village – in Stratford (a Newham Borough’s district located in East London). The thesis argues that various processes, practices and actors come together to produce an environment that prioritises and valorises the perceptions and preferences of white middle-class individuals. East Village, which was presented as a key element of the Olympic Legacy objective “Homes for All”, is a space that actively reproduces the exclusion of working-class and BAME individuals who make up the majority of Stratford and Newham population. Therefore, the intentions of social mixing are not met in practice.

The Landlords

In 2009, Triathlon Homes (TH) – a consortium between East Thames, Southern housing Group housing associations, and developer First Base – purchased 1,379 flats that were set to be affordable and social housing. In 2011, Qatari Royal family’s sovereign fund Qatari Diar, and British developer Delancey (QDD) purchased the remaining 1,439 properties, together with the public and retail space, as well as the freehold. QDD have set up Get Living London (GLL) as their housing management arm to let their luxury apartments on the Private Rented Sector.

TH is a private provider. Nevertheless, it was able to obtain a £110 million public grant from the UK government’s Home and Community Agency (HCA), and purchase socially rented apartments at the East Village. 675 of TH’s properties are available for social rent, while the remaining 704 are a mix of so-called affordable housing: shared ownership and intermediate market rent. Shelter charity and authors such as Paul Watt and Penny Bernstock have raised concerns about the effective affordability of these properties, which are not affordable for East London low to middle-income households. Concerns have emerged even with respect to social rent. In fact, TH’s social housing allocation policy is to prioritise in-work applicants and disabled people. TH also reserves the right to reject an application for affordability reasons, if a prospective tenant has got insufficient financial means to afford the rent and service charge. Triathlon also reserves the right to terminate a tenancy for antisocial behaviour. A private entity such as TH acts like a judge that questions prospective tenants about their financial capacity, entitlements and attitudes to demonstrate their fit in the neighbourhood. The result is that the most marginal applicants are rejected.

When a new social tenancy starts, the combination between rent and service charge is capped at the maximum social rent level allowable by the HCA. However, after the first year, rent and service charge increase annually, such that social rent levels become higher than what is prescribed by the HCA for registered landlords in receipt of public grants. Being privately owned, TH’s social housing units become subject to market logics, and they are no longer a form of welfare support for those who experience housing need.

 Tenure Mix, Security and Design

Despite policy-makers claims, there is a sense that a real mix of tenures within East Village was not a genuine part of the plan, given that QDD and TH blocks are separated. Moreover, socially rented flats tend to be concentrated in different blocks. Even in the buildings where there is a mix of shared ownership, intermediate rent and social housing, the various tenures are often located in different floors, and socially rented flats tend to be concentrated on the lower levels. One is therefore left with the impression that the aim was to set the tenure distribution in a way that kept the most affluent residents separated from the least affluent ones. Such a separation has not facilitated social interaction between neighbours with different socio-economic backgrounds. On the contrary, it has fostered the identification of “us”, the hardworking and well behaving home owners, and “them”, the lazy and unruly social renters; with housing tenure becoming a synonymous of class and ethnic divisions. While Triathlon claims that it would be “near impossible” to know which flat is for social housing and which one is not, the residents know very well where social housing is. “The people who live downstairs” to point to social renters’ “antisocial behaviour” was a recurrent expression in the interviews with shared owners.

East Village’s design has been elaborated in collaboration with Secured by Design, a police initiative that specialises in security features and crime prevention projects. The various plots are equipped with secured entry doors and gates.

East Village’s Secured Doors and Gates

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(Source: Piero Corcillo)

Moreover, the landlords have set up the East Village Management Company (EVML), which operates 24/7 CCTV, and employs security guards to patrol the public ground. Building gated communities serves the need to capture and defend social space, especially when white middle-class enclaves like East Village are built near lower-end areas. This vicinity fosters fear of crime and Mixophobia, which, according to Bauman means anxiety and discomfort about diversity.

EVML employs private security to protect residents from real and perceived external threats. However, the security also “protects” them from each other. The East Villagers are encouraged to refer to EVML if there is an issue with some neighbours. This could be viewed as an interference with the private sphere of interpersonal relationships. However, affluent residents approve this policy and they are happy to minimise contact with the neighbours, especially with social renters.

Residential Space and Lifestyle

The spatial dimension of Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory suggests that the Habitus of white middle-class individuals influences their residential trajectory. As Michaels Benson has attested, they look for neighbourhoods congruent with their lifestyle, preferences and perceptions. QDD’s branding strategy is to stimulate affluent home seekers’ pre-existing dispositions. Words and photos representing local parks, gardens, waterscapes and local shops are very frequent in their advertising material. The area is branded as a green island that offers a healthy retreat from the chaos of London.

The Village’s environment requires high levels of maintenance. QDD understands the importance of living near nature and in an aesthetically pleasing environment for the white middle classes. They reproduce glimpses of wildlife, and EVML employs gardeners and streetcleaners to work on a daily basis to maintain the East Village public realm on a high standard of aesthetically pleasing, tidy and clean space. Contact with nature becomes a product for visual consumption. Residents interiorise the landlord’s branding strategy. The idea of East Village as a holiday place, a retreat from the stress of urban life is a recurrent theme in the interviews.

East Village Greenery

(Source: Piero Corcillo)                                                                                     

Moreover, with an awareness of the importance that local sport classes and events, such as markets and outdoor cinemas, have for affluent individuals, QDD organises these activities as part of the complete East Village package that they offer. Residents are not permitted to organise events independently. Everything that happens in the neighbourhood’s public realm must be planned and supervised by QDD. When events take place, seldom they foster active participation or interactions between neighbours. Yet, they convey a sense of belonging and localness.

East Village Events

(Source: Piero Corcillo)                                                                                     

However, the processes described above, happen in contrast to an outside world – the Stratford area and its residents. The residents’ narratives of belonging draw clear socio-spatial boundaries between the cleanliness, vibrancy and beautiful landscapes of East Village, and the dirt, disorder and ugliness of the wider Stratford area. A sense of Mixophobia emerges in relation to the “other” that lives in Stratford.  Residents highlight that East Village has a totally different atmosphere from the rest of East London. These feelings demonstrate the fallacy of the promise to deliver an Olympic Legacy “for the direct benefit of everyone who lives there” as the London 2012 bidding team claimed. Even the presence of Stratford children in the Chobham Academy – the East Village public primary and secondary school – generates animosity. They are held responsible for the problems that the East Village children experience at school.

The Retail Infrastructure

For middle-class individuals, artisanal products and locally-produced goods have a high cultural value. The East Villagers describe the shops in the neighbourhood as independent, in the sense that there are no chains. They are tailor-made for young, white middle-class residents. The shops are mostly food-based and they are there to complete the environment that the greenery and aesthetics of community have created, and that is intentionally cultivated by GLL on behalf of QDD. In reality, these shops are not independent. They are purposely selected to comply with QDD’s aspirations for the area.

The retail infrastructure becomes a symbol of the middle-class character of the place. The shop keepers act as social and cultural entrepreneurs. When I spent time in one of the Village’s cafés, I saw the managers and staff systematically building relationships with customers. They offer free bread to new customers, so that they come back, they talk to them, and babysit their children. This goes beyond the average staff-customer relationship. However, this is another product for the consumption of an idea of community that QDD offers.

The working-class and BAME residents who do not possess sufficient amounts of economic and cultural capital to afford and frequent the East Village shops are alienated from their middle classed and westernised eateries and atmosphere. QDD pushes back ethnically diverse and low-cost shops, by requiring unaffordable financial conditions to those who would like to open them. They are deemed to threaten public order and the place’s respectability. The affluent East Villagers develop a sense of moral ownership over the neighbourhood’s retail infrastructure. The healthy food restaurants and trendy shops belong “here”, in the Village; downscale shops and unhealthy restaurants as well as their BAME and working-class customers – belong “over there” in the Stratford area.

Despite being unable to afford the prices, several social renters agree with the landlord and their affluent neighbours. They become unconsciously complicit with the unequal power relations, norms and values that become hegemonic in the area, and perceive them as fair and just; a process that Pierre Bourdieu describes as symbolic violence. They claim that East Village is meant to be an upper-class area of Stratford, where they feel privileged to live. Again, this goes to the heart of the Olympic promise. The residents experience the neighbourhood as something very different from what was supposed to be: a 50-50 affordable-private, socially mixed development. Particularly damning is the fact that QDD and TH allowed the East Village’s community café – arguably the only place designed to be truly inclusive of all socio-ethnic groups in the space – to be shut down due to lack of funds to keep it running.

Policy implications

Despite the presence of many master-planned communities in London, seldom can we observe this level of micromanagement. QDD captures part of the sovereignty that public authorities exercise over urban space, and uses its authority to tell residents how to behave, as well as deciding who belongs and who does not. A state that aims at delivering socially mixed neighbourhoods and affordable housing through mega-events and partnerships with large housing corporations legitimises instead the logics of social inequalities.

Move families out of Brimstone House NOW!

On Sunday 7 February, a mother of two in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, E15, could take it no more and shared very personal photos of her home to illustrate the contempt that Newham council has for families crammed into the shoddy, overcrowded, damp rooms in this building.

For two years, she has put up with damp, with mould, with inadequate and expensive heating appliances, with a cramped situation whereby she has to share a bed with her children, with no bedroom for her children to sleep in, no room to study for the older one now of school age, no privacy for her.

Then came the rain and in it came. Now the children’s books were ruined, now the mattress was all wet and all their bedding affected. She packed up the room into boxes and bags to safeguard what was left and she asked a family also living in similar conditions in the building if they could take her children overnight, which they kindly did. The next night, she found space on the kitchen floor to put the children down to sleep.

Being an active part of Focus E15 campaign, this brave, resilient mother put out the message to others. Tweeting Newham council got a response, she was contacted and there was a promise of a visit to see and sort out the problems….

But this mother of two is clear, you can sort out the leak but you cannot fix the endemic problems of Brimstone House. The only way to reverse the negligence of extended stays in this appalling living situation, is to move people out to decent homes. Until then, the huge toll on adults’ and children’s mental and physical health will continue.

Focus E15 campaign knows that there are empty homes around Newham, and shockingly, has to repeat again and again and again what everyone, including Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, knows only too well – there are over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate, deliberately left empty for well over a decade, less than a mile from Brimstone House.

Residents of Brimstone House have voiced their issues loud and clear over and over again. In a recent exchange, mothers of young children expressed some of the issues they are struggling with in Brimstone House, in lockdown and with extreme difficulty getting replies from housing officers now that Bridge House and other housing offices are shut.

The constant merry-go-round of temporary and emergency housing: ‘Moving again with my child….we have been living in a hotel, then a friend’s house and then various shared houses. It’s been a physically exhausting year living in London, we have been moved five times already.’

The lack of security: ‘It’s really hard to see a way out of this … and then the empty horrible threats that they will remove our children. All this is magnified by constant insecurity, knowing we’re at their mercy and they really can do what they want. If the council was someone’s partner, they would say it’s an abusive relationship.’

Being forced into tiny spaces in lockdown in a pandemic: ‘It’s so narrow and the ceiling is very low, I feel boxed in. You can see the end of my feet is where the TV is supposed to go, glued to our eyes!’

Knowing there are empty homes nearby: ‘There is no way they can possibly justify not opening the Carpenters Estate and many others during this pandemic, I hope at some point we see someone held accountable for purposely keeping houses shut whilst knowing that we have been having a housing crisis for many many years.’

Being at the mercy of a system riven by division and discrimination: ‘And they purposely trap us in the illusion of their ‘fair’ system. If we don’t have jobs, they call us lazy, when we do get a job or try to pursue our education, they make it nearly impossible…Unfortunately a lot of people are either dismissive or insensitive, they don’t actually see just how oppressing and soul destroying this system is.’

The women show their strength and resilience: ‘Persevering in adversity is one of the many life skills we are passing down to our kids simply by living the best we can in these situations…’

The conversation ends on a positive note: ‘All they want is to distract us and make our lives not meaningful, they do not want us to achieve our goals because they know we are coming back to fight. All we need is NOT to keep quiet,  we should continue to use our voice, and I believe with the support of Focus E15 campaign together we will  win, they will hear our voice!’

Together we will win, they will hear our voice!

Get families out of Brimstone House now!

Resist! Reclaim! Repopulate!

Use the empty homes!

Telling the truth about what has been said, expressing ourselves on the street stall.
Mould growing inside a bedroom in Brimstone House
Where the TV is meant to go, no space for children to grow inside the flats in Brimstone House

Our lives and our future: resistance has not gone away

As 2020 came to a close, Brimstone House residents and Focus E15 campaign showed that
resistance to the callousness of the council has not gone away. We stood distanced and
Covid-aware outside the hostel with banners explaining what is happening to families in
the building. These are some of the issues that residents want you to be aware of: 

  • the family in such a small room that the television takes up the only window space
  • the mother of two children told by the council to put her three-year-old on a sofa as no room for a bed
  • the young boy who asks why he has no space to do his homework
  • the threat of eviction on 21 December of a family with two young children, told they have made themselves intentionally homeless – under campaign pressure that date has been changed to 4 January – but then what?

This is not an acceptable way to treat anyone and the campaign is ongoing.

Focus E15 continues to campaign closely with residents of Brimstone House. Mostly mothers and children, courageous in speaking up about their situation, on behalf of many more than just themselves, to highlight the outrageous situation of families forced to live, and isolate, in tiny, badly-ventilated, often mouldy and damp, overcrowded rooms with children.

On the streets at our weekly stall where we find out what is happening to people and their housing situations.

Newham has the highest number of children in the country living in poverty, the highest level of homelessness – one out of every 24 people, the worst level of air pollution in the whole of Britain, the worst overcrowding at 25% of homes, and the highest number in the country of households in temporary accommodation, currently 4,500. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Newham had the second worse Covid19 death rate in the country by June 2020.

Those raising the issues of Brimstone House, in temporary and emergency housing, are raising the issues of housing in the east London borough of Newham, and challenging the Labour council to start delivering rather than just promising. In this dire situation, there are still over 400 empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, These flats must be immediately refurbished and repopulated. We say to the council – stuff the constant consultation processes and get on with the work at hand and use those empty homes.

As we end 2020, Focus E15 campaign would like to thank all those who have taken part in campaigning for housing justice over this year and given time and energy to the campaign. This year has been very challenging, living through a pandemic, many people in the most difficult of situations, emotionally, practically and financially, struggling with inappropriate housing. Our thoughts go out to everyone, especially those grieving for friends and relatives who have died, and for Focus E15 campaign, we think of Ella and Chelsie, so central to our campaign and so missed.

The struggle must go on and Focus E15 campaign enters 2021 determined to continue to
build a housing movement, challenge the Labour council, give solidarity to all those fighting for housing justice, and…. Educate! Agitate! Organise! so that we expose this ruthless capitalist system and begin to work in unity together for a better future for everyone.

Residents outside Brimstone House Hostel in Stratford as 2020 comes to a close

Newham hostel residents walk out to demand housing rights for all

On Saturday 5 September Brimstone House hostel residents threatened to camp out next to the empty towers blocks on Carpenters Estate as they walked out of their hostel accomodation in disgust at being left in overcrowded accommodation for months and years. They marched down the street to see the boarded up flats on the estate with the full support of Focus E15 campaign as they chanted “Repopulate Carpenters Estate” and “we need homes now”.



It was very moving to stand at the foot of almost-totally-empty tower block on the Carpenters Estate with residents from Brimstone House. The children loved playing in the playground, outrageously the one outside Brimstone House is still locked up (despite this campaign highlighting this almost two years ago). Women and children from Brimstone House spoke about the shoddy, cramped, overcrowded conditions they suffer, while we stood in the shadow of empty council homes on an estate with play facilities and green space.

No more anti working class excuses from this Labour council. Give residents grants to do up the flats and let residents build a beautiful community once again. There are 400 flats in the 3 empty tower blocks being purposely locked up by the council.

No deals to dodgy developers, no more phony consultations!

A resident from the overcrowded hostel Brimstone House can’t believe that the council are locking up spacious empty flats on Carpenters Estate. This picture, the header picture and the following pictures were taken by Tom Price/ Ecce Opus

Shame on Newham Labour council!
Refurbish and repopulate the Carpenters Estate now! We are sick of your lame excuses.

ABANDONED BY NEWHAM

At the end of June and after lockdown restrictions eased, Focus E15 campaign went back out on the streets. At the weekly street stall we have met many people struggling with overcrowding living and poor quality housing – made much harder to sort out due to the pandemic and the closure of services. This stress has been compounded by the knowledge that Newham, a very diverse borough where over 70% of residents are Black, Asian and people of colour, is the borough with the second highest death rate in England from COVID19 . Many campaigners have been making the connection between poor housing, poor health and increased risk of illness.

The residents of Brimstone House are organising. Fed up of isolating with children in box rooms, with windows that don’t open in the sweltering heat wave and no answers from the council about what their housing future is, they are planning to take action. In addition to this one hostel block there are also thousands of other people in Newham struggling with housing in a borough where over 25% of people live in overcrowded situations. Try and explain to them why over 400 homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate and have done for years and years and years.

We know that if we organise together we are stronger and we have a voice.

In order to illustrate this please take a look at Mary’s story below. She has been trying for over a decade to sort out her living conditions, one of thousands of people who feel abandoned by Newham and for whom, having a new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, for the last two years, has changed nothing.

Mary and her 21 year-old son and 18 year-old daughter are living in a two bedroom council home. For over ten years, Mary has been trying to ensure that there is enough space for the children growing up who need separate bedrooms as stated in all guidance and legislation on sex of children and overcrowding. She has been on the housing waiting list for over 12 years, it is in fact longer but the council lost her original application. She bids regularly, and she is on a council and private swap register.

Mary has been to see her local MP Lyn Brown, has been to see her councillor, has even been to Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz’s surgery. Everyone listens but does nothing. She has told these elected representatives very personal details of her family’s history that explain the urgency of her situation. But still no action, no replies, no follow up.

During lockdown in the pandemic, this stressful situation has been magnified and relationships have become very strained. Mary, who sleeps in the living room anyway and hasn’t had a proper bed for years, is now also working from home. Her son also returned from university due to lockdown and has been trying to study from home. Mary explained that the physical and mental health strains are ‘exacerbated by the lack of space for everyone’.

Thank you Mary for getting involved with Focus E15 campaign and sharing your story. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Newham Labour Council must act to alleviate the housing injustice in the borough.

The East London Federation of Suffragettes were active 100 years ago in east London, but they remain totally relevant today. We echo their sentiments when we say that we need Deeds Not Words when we encounter the brick wall that Mary and others have come up against when dealing with the council. https://www.eastlondonsuffragettes.com/

Join us on the street outside Wilko’s every Saturday on the Broadway from 12-2pm and help educate, organise and mobilise for our right to long term housing that is safe and secure.

HOMES NOT HARASSMENT

Following the Chain of Power demonstration from Brimstone House hotel to Carpenters Estate on 27 June 2020, more people have come forward to tell their story and speak out. Alone our voices are often lost, but together we are stronger, louder and we are heard.

Below is an example of someone who wants to remain anonymous but who knows that her story is not an isolated one.

A woman and her young child have been in Brimstone House hostel for over a year. She was placed there by Newham council as she was homeless. Very little support from her caseworker despite repeated attempts by her to get in touch. She kept bidding for secure housing with no success. A new caseworker was suddenly assigned, who was aggressive and demeaning, saying that she had not done enough to find accommodation in the private-rented sector. Threatening conversations: if you refuse what the council deems to be a suitable offer, this can result in being labelled intentionally homeless, no more help for housing and possible referral to social services. This led to great feelings of anxiety as it is also implied that if not enough evidence of searching for accommodation, then the council may give up its duty to house her and her child.

Legal advice was taken, it is illegal to threaten the end of housing duty on basis that the search for private accommodation is inadequate. During this time however this woman had many feelings of insecurity at the thought of being sent out of London, away from support networks, family and friends. Feelings of being undermined as a parent. Huge negative mental health implications. Effect on physical health.

This is just one example of the 1000s and 1000s of others and THIS HAS TO STOP.

Focus E15 campaign says to Newham Labour Council:

Stop the harassment! House people decently! No more excuses, no more time wasting – open up the empty council homes on the Carpenters Estate now!

Why are 3 empty tower blocks next door to an overcrowded hostel in Newham?

Focus E15 campaign organised a physically distanced action on Saturday 27 June which linked the 1km from an overcrowded hostel in Newham (known as Brimstone House) to the 400 empty flats on a council estate (Carpenters Estate) and highlighted the fact that the 3 tower blocks on the estate have been deliberately abandoned by Newham Labour Council for over 13 years whilst people struggle to live in the cramped hostel.

The human solidarity ‘chain of power’ marked out the 1km distance by placing people on temporary markings along the way and by chanting political slogans up and down the line, urging everyone not to forget about the empty homes on Carpenters Estate which was originally built for the people of Newham as life long secure housing.

Egwolo, a former resident of Brimstone House who has recently been moved onto Carpenters Estate after protesting about the lack of space in Brimstone House hostel explained:

It is important to use our democratic right to safely protest against the clear injustice of having 28,000 people on a council housing waiting list, whilst leaving 400 plus Council homes empty. Families have been forced to isolate for months in one room. Refurbish these empty flats and open up the homes so people can have long term housing security and enough space to live safely.

Ayesha, a Focus E15 campaigner went on to say:

’Newham council has the worst record on homelessness in the country and one of the highest mortality rates for COVID 19 – how dare Newham Labour council leave homes empty during a pandemic. The tower blocks should be opened up as 100% council housing as that is what the people need’’.

Social media platforms shared our video of the action which you can watch below:

Watch the video of the ‘chain of power’ protest.

Let’s get organised!

Many who took part in the ‘chain of power’ event were chanting ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’. Newham’s deprivation and diversity makes it particularly vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. More than half of children live in poverty, while the rate of households in temporary accommodation is one of the highest in England. Newham also has the most diverse population profile of any local authority in the country: 78% of residents are from minority ethnic communities and many live in inter-generational households. There are longstanding health inequalities across the borough.

Therefore there is no time to lose and our remaining council housing must be saved and put to good use. Refurbish the empty flats on Carpenters Estate and open up the homes, so people can have long term housing security and enough space to live safely.

Join Focus E15 campaign every Saturday outside Wilko’s on the Broadway in Stratford from 12-2pm, bring your mask, stay safe and stand up for housing justice for all. Together we are stronger. More pictures of the demonstration can be found in the slide show below.

Continue reading Why are 3 empty tower blocks next door to an overcrowded hostel in Newham?

Why I displayed a resistance banner in my temporary accommodation (Brimstone House)


On the 1st of May I decided to make a resistance banner. This is my way to make stand about how I feel  living in temporary accommodation/bedsit provided by Newham council. I feel it is the only way to get public attention and for people to understand about living in such conditions in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic.” 

”People from deprived and over-populated areas such as Newham are more likely to catch the virus. My thoughts behind making the banner and hanging it up on the balcony of Brimstone House was to simply say I have had enough. I am angry and frustrated that for myself and many other families living in temporary accommodation, we have been disregarded by the Council.

With so many empty homes around Newham such as those on the Carpenters Estate, it is totally inhumane and unacceptable to have families living in one room with children.

We are scared for our lives and our children lives. There is not enough being done by Newham Council to protect us as residents with so many empty flats lying empty.

The least they can do is open them up.”

By Marsha from the Focus E15 campaign

RADIO INTERVIEW ON HOUSING DURING CORONAVIRUS

Listen to Focus E15 campaigner Egwolo being interviewed by Pete Day from ”NuSound Radio 92FM” here: http://radiopete.org/home/nusound-radio-92fm-140520-focus-e15/

https://radiopete.org/

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.

img-20190118-wa0006946879919.jpg

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

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.