Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate: An Oral History of the Concrete Jungle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) The estate was like a shiny new penny. It was lovely. It was really lovely. It’s hard for me to paint a picture for you but it was a beautiful place to live … The community side of it, you […]Book Review: Michael Romyn, London’s Aylesbury Estate – An Oral History of the ‘Concrete Jungle’
A mother and two children living in Brimstone House, 10 Victoria Street, Stratford E15, has taken the brave step of speaking out about the unbearable conditions they are forced to live in. Focus E15 campaign stands with her and all those facing these issues.
Brimstone House is no place for children to grow up in, yet hundreds of families with children are languishing there in overcrowded rooms, labelled temporary accommodation, for years. Less than a mile down the road, four hundred council homes lie empty on the Carpenters Estate, and all around luxury apartments continue to be built.
In October 2020, when Rukaya asked about the difficulty with the space and the bed provision as the baby is too big for the cot, she was told her three-year-old could sleep on the sofa. When she challenged this, the options included getting her a bigger, better sofa and/or putting some of their belongings into storage….
This is a shocking story, but not an isolated one.
Newham’s Labour Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said recently, ‘The scale of the challenge has never been greater. But together with my cabinet, which I’m proud is one of the most diverse in the country, I am leading a hugely ambitious programme that sets out how we will improve residents’ lives now and well beyond the pandemic.’
Rokhsana Fiaz and her council have set out their housing policy. She said ‘We’ll continue prioritising housing delivery as we scale up our plans and meet promised targets. The housing strategy is another crucial milestone in our efforts to drive forward through all the instruments of the Council to deliver for local residents.’
In the tradition of Sylvia Pankhurst and the working class struggles of the east end of London and the East London Federation of Suffragettes, we say Deeds Not Words…
This is an emergency, for Rukaya, her children and all of those in Brimstone House.
Even more urgent in a pandemic and lockdown conditions, in Newham which has the biggest percentage of children living in poverty of any borough in London, 25% of residents living in overcrowded housing, and in the first few months of the pandemic suffered the highest death rate in London from Covid19.
Rukaya and her two children need Newham Council to deliver on housing now, a proper solution – decent long-term housing with space for children to grow and develop and for Rukaya to take her life off hold and continue to study, to work and to be active in her community.
Together we are stronger!
Solidarity with all those fighting for housing justice!
There is no excuse while there are empty homes.
Resources for the people and not for the property developers!
A Focus E15 campaigner writes…
Imagine a local government tasked with the housing of vulnerable and homeless people but who has either rejected or systematically failed to provide adequate housing and assistance. Imagine a redress system that on the surface claims to have the best interests of the people at heart, but instead punishes them for daring to challenge poor policy decisions and labels the brave few as intentionally homeless. Now imagine a council that responds to a legal complaint one year late with many inaccuracies in their written reply. Welcome to Newham in Britain in 2020.
It was also in the middle of heatwave in 2019, when I chose to take up the offer from Focus E15 and the Public Interest Law Centre to raise a legal complaint against Newham Council. In the sweltering July heat myself and another 18 residents chose to outline our discontent with the living conditions of Brimstone House now, 10 Victoria Street, and listed demands for a change in Newham’s housing policy in general.
Myself and so many residents felt with the weight of the law now behind us and the public interest surrounding housing conditions, especially for society’s most vulnerable in light of the tragedy at Grenfell, Newham Council would at least make moves to be seen to be doing something to address such injustice. Yet I cannot say entirely that it comes as a surprise to me that they have only chosen to respond to the legal complaint almost a year late and with no signs of change on the horizon.
Our challenge highlighted the damp and mouldy conditions that many residents of Brimstone were living through. Their response was to send council elected environmental officers who to no one’s surprise declared the block was fit for human habitation, and that, in their eyes, concluded the matter.
We highlighted the insufficient provision of laundry facilities within the block. The Council’s response? To claim there was no space for more machines and that it was out of their hands as the service was contracted out to a third party. This is despite the addition of at least 10 more properties to the block and a fire that took place in the laundry room in January this year. If that alone was not enough to bring the service back into the Council’s hands I fail to see what would be.
A long running theme within Brimstone House was the anti-social and prison like environment the Council has actively fostered via the presence of a security detail, numerous CCTV cameras and the imposition of curfews. To counter this residents have long requested that the only unused space left in the block, the conservatory, be opened up for communal gatherings and socialising with neighbours. The Council has claimed in their response to the legal complaint, that it has been available for use since September 2019 and has held an 8-week English language course. Residents have pointed out that they have never been notified that the conservatory space was ever open to them and the course only ran for 4 weeks in January 2020.
Focus E15 campaign is not blind to the challenges that a decades worth of cuts and a government wholly opposed to the idea of a welfare state faces. We acknowledge that Newham faces its own unique set of challenges being a Borough with the highest proportion residents in temporary and emergency accommodation. Yet you cannot deny the fact for 63 years Newham has been a Labour run council. What challenges or even alternative to unpopular government policies did our councillors bring to the table to elevate the standing of their residents? I am essentially saying the situation Newham finds itself in right now is not the fault of external, emotionless government policies.
2018 promised to be a year of hope and change for its residents with the inception of Rokshana Fiaz as new mayor. We were promised ‘more transparency, accountability and [greater involvement from] residents in decision making’. With genuinely affordable housing and the ‘safety of our young people’ being the priority. Yet in 2020 Focus E15 is still receiving reports of unfair evictions, cramped and inadequate housing conditions, dismissive and threatening council officers and the adverse impact these conditions are having on the children of residents living through this nightmare.
Below are a two more testimonials from the residents of Brimstone house hostel who expect to see changes to their living situation.The living conditions in Brimstone House are difficult and the cause of physical illness and emotional distress. We have protected the identities as per their request.
Mother of two, referred to as R
This mother has been living in a small room in Brimstone House since September 2019. R was told she would be there 56 days maximum when she moved in but she is still there with no news, no contact from the council and no idea how long this nightmare situation will go on for. Her children are three years old and ten months old. She has had no contact with a housing officer since the day they moved in. It is hard to look for work and arrange childcare when the staff at the hostel question everyone who come in and out of the building. Her room is small, the heat is intense and due to difficulty with the washing machines she has been hand washing all their clothes but told she couldn’t hang them outside to dry.
Mother of two referred to as H
This mother has been in Brimstone House since November 2018. She has a seven year old and a 14 month old. She has no housing officer and has not been allowed to bid for council housing. Like many other residents in the building, H has confirmed that the conservatory is closed-another place that young children could have for recreation and play if the council kept to their word. John Gray, deputy Mayor and head of housing in Newham, promised to open the conservatory for children to use in Summer 2018. H has been coming to the street stall and has told us that: “it is not acceptable how we have to live, we can not take this anymore!” During the heatwave the safety windows could only open a tiny bit making it impossible to sleep at night. Now her kitchen light has gone, the council haven’t responded to her contact about this essential repair and she has bought a little lamp to have light in the evening so she can cook food for her family.
Many of our campaigners and followers will know Marsha, who caused a justifiable stir at the height of lockdown during an international day of action – May Day – highlighting the unreasonable aspects of the housing crisis. With a banner hung from her balcony in Brimstone House, pointing out the injustice of isolating with children in a tiny room while 400 homes on Carpenters Estate, ten minutes’ walk away lie empty, Marsha highlighted the dreadful reality of being forced to isolate in hostel accommodation. Where is the urgency from the council to solve these issues? Three months on from the May Day protest and Marsha is still languishing with her child in Brimstone House.
As more and more articles appear that make the link between COVID19 deaths and overcrowding, and diverse communities – you would think that Newham Labour Council and Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz would be rushing to solve some people’s situation as fast as possible. However, there are still over 400 council homes still lying empty on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, Newham, London E15. Now into the fourteenth year of being empty, and with a timeline for doing something about them that extends beyond this Mayor’s tenure, it is becoming clear that the value of the land is more important than housing the people.
To top up the roller-coaster ride the mayor and the council have put residents at Brimstone House through, along will 28,000 people on the housing waiting list the council’s legal team has rejected campaigners from speaking as a deputation at a online council meeting stating that that this is because there is an ongoing legal complaint between Focus E15 campaign, Public Interest Law Center and the council. When you look on the council’s website the slogan ‘people at the heart of everything we do’ is plastered everywhere. Yet it seems when people power takes action the furious foot of autocracy is there to kick us to curb. Help us publicise the raging injustice of the council’s response to our legal complaint, the many stories behind the brave people fighting for housing justice and take action to make a change and demand that the Labour Council in Newham starts by refurbishing and repopulating the Carpenters Estate now. No more lengthy processes involving exhibitions and form filling. The answer is yes – those towers should be full of people now. A local forum even came up with their own plan for the estate but it was rejected by the council. Why?
Whilst the council gloss over the legal complaint submitted over a year ago by Public Interest Law Center, we say that the fight for decent living conditions for all those stuck at Brimstone House must go on. The more we stand together, the stronger we are. Together we can challenge Newham Council and demand immediate decent housing and reopening of Carpenters Estate for the people of 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.
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!
”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/
Following our online meeting with Moms 4 Housing, Focus E15 have decided to call for action on Friday 1st May, in the form of creating and displaying banners to demand that empty homes are opened because housing should be a human right.
Get creative and make your banner – walk down the street with it, hang it out a window, whatever you prefer. But make sure to take a picture and hashtag: #OpenEmptyHomes and #HousingIsAHumanRight
Our friends and comrades in the USA and around the world will also be doing action to highlight the same message. Follow Moms4Housing here: https://moms4housing.org/
Remember to check out the Moms4Housing meeting podcast: https://focuse15.org/2020/04/26/moms4housing-webinar-released/
Give solidarity, take action this Mayday!
On Sunday 19th April at 6pm London / 10am California join us for this meeting co-hosted by Focus E15 Campaign in London, England and Moms 4 Housing in Oakland, California, USA https://moms4housing.org/
There are four times as many empty homes in Oakland as there are people without homes, and in the UK there are double the amount of empty homes as homeless people.
The Covid-19 crisis has escalated the need for action to allow everyone to be housed and live in dignity and safety.
This session will hear from grassroots organisations either side of the Atlantic who are taking action against this same problem. We are using this time of crisis to share experience, education and ideas for action.
These people need homes, these homes need people!
‘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.
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.